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Morrisey responds to criticism of abortion clinic letters

Charleston, W.Va. - Attorney General Patrick Morrisey on Wednesday responded to criticism of letters he sent to two Charleston clinics questioning their policies and procedures concerning abortion.

"Sadly, rather than focus on facts and details, certain groups have chosen to politicize the letters," Morrisey said in a press release. "Indeed, they are trying to raise money through scare tactics by mischaracterizing the law.

Morrisey did not mention any groups by name in the release, and a representative did not return a call for further comment.

Morrisey announced Monday he had sent letters to the two Charleston clinics that perform elective abortions in this state. The letters asked about practices and procedures and mentioned a Pennsylvania abortion doctor recently convicted of murder and a lawsuit filed in Kanawha Circuit Court against one of the clinics.

Morrisey also noted a Daily Mail report that no state agency regulates or licenses the clinics. He said it's appropriate to ask whether there should be more oversight.

West Virginia Free, a pro-choice women's health advocacy group, and the West Virginia chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union both questioned Morrisey's motives in different news accounts this week.

Margaret Chapman Pomponio, executive director of West Virginia Free, told the Charleston Gazette Monday she thought Morrisey's actions were a political attack on abortion and women's health. Sara Bird, president of the state ACLU chapter, told MetroNews that Morrisey's letters were "politically motivated."

On the website he used during his campaign for attorney general, Morrisey says he is "pro-life and will fight to protect the unborn."

In his letter Wednesday, Morrisey said he sent the letters because he wants to "protect the health of women."

"Our letters were carefully tailored to focus on the lack of regulation of abortion clinics as a whole," Morrisey said in the statement. "We hope the groups who have sought to politicize this important issue of public health and safety will begin to stick to the facts."

Morrisey has noted that abortion clinics themselves are not regulated or licensed by the state. In his first letter, he said doctors and nurses are licensed.

To legally work as a doctor and performs abortions, one must be licensed by the state. Morrisey says "that's not the same, however, as regulating the facilities where those doctors and nurses work." He points to licensing of hospitals and "free standing surgical centers" as his reasoning.

Marsha Dadisman, state Department of Health and Human Resources spokeswoman, told the Daily Mail hospitals and "extended care units" working in conjunction with a hospital are licensed.

Lesly Messina, president of the West Virginia Free board, wonders why Morrisey isn't asking questions of other clinics that aren't regulated.

"I think if that's the stance they want to take, then they would probably need to start regulating every single . . . free-standing clinic in the state," Messina said.

She said she was aware of Morrisey's latest letter and thought West Virginia Free probably was one of the groups he was referring to.  

Like Pomponio and Bird, she thinks Morrisey's "inquisition" was outside the purview of his office.

"I think the point that (West Virginia Free) are really trying to make. . .is that we really believe Mr. Morrisey is overstepping his role as the AG, and frankly is wasting taxpayer money in waging a crusade against women's health and their providers," Messina said.

As the state's chief legal officer, Morrisey argues he is using his authority to evaluate significant legal questions facing West Virginia. He said he has used that power judiciously and would "never shirk from my responsibilities."

He also said his office has the ability to issue subpoenas in some circumstances but had not done so in this case. The office is reviewing whether more regulations are needed, but Morrisey said it's up to the Legislature "to decide the appropriate level of regulation."

Dr. Gorli Harish is the only doctor at Kanawha SurgiCenter, a clinic that performs abortions in Kanawha City. He told the Daily Mail Monday he didn't think the letter was necessary and questioned whether Morrisey understood abortion law.

Morrisey called for the clinics to respond to his letters by July 1.

Contact writer Dave Boucher at 304-348-4843 or david.boucher@dailymail.com. Follow him at www.twitter.com/Dave_Boucher1.

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