Skinner, Morrisey face off over family planning

[cleeng_content id="627309429" description="Read it now!" price="0.49" t="article"]Abortion divide 

CHARLES TOWN – A Jefferson County lawmaker is alleging the state’s attorney general is attempting to divide the state’s Democratic Party as part of his effort to review abortion practices in West Virginia.

In a recent interview with Salon.com, Delegate Stephen Skinner said he thinks Attorney General Patrick Morrisey’s decision to send letters to the state’s two abortion clinics requesting information about how they are regulated is a politically motivated attempt to target what he called a “soft spot” in the state Democratic Party’s unity.

Patrick Morrisey

Patrick Morrisey

“By and large, the House of Delegates and the Senate in West Virginia have been under Democratic control for the better part of 80 years, but within the party, there are certainly different factions,” Skinner told reporter Katie McDonough. “And while you’ll find that a majority of the Democratic caucus would personally identify as pro-life, we’ve been able to focus our attention on other issues and come together as a diverse coalition.”

“The only Republican to hold statewide office right now is Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, who is coming to West Virginia very plugged into the national Republican Party,” Skinner said. “What he is doing right now [by targeting abortion providers for political scrutiny] is, to his mind, a way to divide the Democratic Party.”

Morrisey defends his legal review, saying it is based on legitimate concerns with state regulation of abortion clinics.

The letters followed, and cite, the widely-publicized conviction of Dr. Kermit Gosnell, a Philadelphia-based abortion provider, on three counts of first-degree murder for killing three babies who were removed alive during abortion procedures, and a lawsuit filed by Itai Gravely, a 27-year-old Charleston woman, against Dr. Rodney Stephens of the Women’s Health Center, alleging that he performed a botched abortion on her despite her asking him to stop.

Stephens denies the charges.

“The merits of that lawsuit must still be resolved in court,” Morrisey wrote in a press release, “but it does raises serious questions about how such clinics in West Virginia are inspected and reviewed to ensure patients are safe.”

Gravely is being represented by Jeremiah Dys, the president of the Family Policy Council of West Virginia, a pro-life organization.

Morrisey’s spokeswoman Beth Ryan accused Skinner and Salon.com of attempting to “obscure the exact nature” of the attorney general’s legal review. Ryan pointed to two areas of state law that necessitate the review.

Stephen Skinner

Stephen Skinner

“West Virginia law permits abortions to be performed until birth,” she said. “That is not a debatable point; it’s the law. It’s with this fact in mind that people across the political spectrum ask what basic regulations are, or are not, in place, to protect women’s health.”

Neither of the state’s two abortion clinics currently offer abortions after 18 weeks of gestation. According to their websites, the Women’s Health Center offers abortion procedures between weeks four and 16 of pregnancy, and the Kanawha Surgicenter offers abortion procedures until the 18th week of pregnancy, determined as the length of time since the last normal menstrual period.

Ryan said there was a second major area of concern.

“West Virginia does not require a physician to perform an abortion,” she said.

A follow-up question asking whether there had been any instances of non-physicians performing abortions in West Virginia received no response.

Morrisey has argued that the regulation of doctors who perform abortions is not sufficient to ensure that abortion clinics themselves are safely operated.

“[Doctors] and nurses are regulated by the State,” he wrote in a press release. “That is not the same, however, as regulating the facilities where those doctors and nurses work. Our legislature has recognized as much by providing separate oversight for hospitals and free standing surgical centers.”

Ryan said a legal review is within the purview of the attorney general’s office.

“As the chief legal officer of the state, our office is engaging in a legal review and analyzing the state of abortion regulation in West Virginia, in a manner very similar to a bipartisan study request that passed the House of Delegates by voice vote in April,” Ryan said. “Who else should do a legal review of West Virginia laws other than the state attorney general?

“At the end of this process, we will simply sort out the state of the law in West Virginia so that the public can know the difference between myth and fact. Ultimately, the Legislature, and not our office, will determine the appropriate amount of regulation, if any, regarding abortion in our state.”

Following Morrisey’s initiation of a legal review, Skinner sent a series of letters to the state’s crisis pregnancy centers, requesting that they provide information about how they are regulated as well as information about what kinds of procedures and advice they give to pregnant women.

“The Attorney General has targeted a couple of medical clinics who provide full reproductive services and it made me think about what’s going on in these crisis centers, and the fact that I don’t think that they’re regulated at all,” Skinner said in an interview with the Spirit. “There may be counseling that requires licenses going on inside. There may be medical advice going on, and there may be flat-out untruths being told.”

“Abortions are legal,” Skinner said. “And, regardless of whether anyone agrees or disagrees with them, we’re seeing an attack on the relationship between doctor and patient right now. That is something that needs to be scrutinized, and where medical advice is being given by someone who is not licensed or trained, we need to take a pretty serious look at that.”

Skinner acknowledged that crisis pregnancy centers provide some useful services.

“I think some of these centers do a good service by helping out young parents and helping with critical resources, but I’m also concerned about the people who are out there proselytizing in the guise of medical advice,” he said.

Skinner said his suspicions are based on reports of medical advice being given out in crisis pregnancy centers in other states, but he does not know whether this is being done in West Virginia.

“[The reports] come from across the country,” Skinner said. “There is just not a lot of public information [about West Virginia’s crisis pregnancy centers] out there.”

“They’re offering pregnancy tests, and so what we need to know is what they are doing beyond that,” he said. “Are they giving specific advice about all reproductive choices? Are they giving inaccurate information?”

Skinner points out that some of the state’s crisis center are offering pregnancy tests, and said that there may be health risks to pregnant women if qualified health professionals are not doing diagnoses.

“If they are doing testing and telling women that they are pregnant, or they are not pregnant, and they are not qualified to be able to respond to some of the questions women have, that could lead to substantial risks,” he said. “And, if they are women who are going to have children, it could lead to risks for children.”

Skinner pointed to one possible danger: the misdiagnosis of an ectopic pregnancy, a condition in which a fertilized egg implants in the fallopian tube rather than the uterus, which can be fatal if not treated.

Skinner’s letter cites an incident in Missouri in which a woman was misdiagnosed at a crisis pregnancy center as having had a miscarriage when she in fact had an ectopic pregnancy, which eventually required emergency surgery to remove her fallopian tube.

Skinner says he has yet to receive answers to his questions.

“I have not heard back from any of the crisis centers,” Skinner said.

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