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Morrisey seeks public comments on abortions laws, regulations

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - State Attorney General Patrick Morrisey wants to know what citizens think about state laws and regulations related to abortions.

His office announced Wednesday it will start accepting public comments online as part of his review of laws and regulations in West Virginia that pertain to abortions.

"The Office is inviting all interested stakeholders and the general public to share their knowledge and experience about health care regulation generally and abortion specifically in West Virginia and elsewhere," Morrisey said in a news release.

This comes after some have criticized recent action taken by Morrisey about clinics that perform abortions.

Pro-choice advocacy groups criticized Morrisey when he sent letters to two state clinics that perform elective abortions. The letters asked the clinics to respond to questions about their understanding of abortion law and policies related to performing abortions.

Opponents -- including the state chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union and West Virginia Free -- said he sent the letters for political motivation. They pointed out that many health clinics are not regulated by the state and allege Morrisey is trying to restrict a woman's right to seek an abortion.

Morrisey accused the groups of "politicizing the letters." In his release Wednesday, he said the office wants to avoid any negative dialogue by seeking public comment.

"Our goal is to rise above the name calling and attacks and make this a thoughtful, civil process that focuses on the law and the facts," Morrisey stated in the news release.

Morrisey stated his goal is to make sure the office's review of abortion law and regulations "is as thorough and transparent as possible." After a review of state policies pertaining to abortions, Morrisey said his office still has questions.

"Statutes require informed consent and parental notification, but we have not located any law that requires abortion procedures in West Virginia to be performed by licensed physicians or any law that sets a gestational age limit governing when an abortion procedure may be performed," the release states.

Morrisey, a Republican, defeated longtime Attorney General Darrell McGraw in the 2012 general election. Morrisey's campaign website says he is pro-life and will "fight to protect the unborn."

The news release never states what Morrisey will actually do with the public comments, or if the public will be able to see the comments.

"For right now, we're just hoping that people submit comments," said Morrisey spokeswoman Beth Ryan. "Once the comments are submitted, the office will be evaluating all of the information that we received.

"Once we've had a chance to review and evaluate all of the comments, we will take the next step," she continued.

This is the latest step in Morrisey's review of abortion in the state. He sent the letters to the abortion clinics after a Charleston woman, represented by religious conservative advocacy groups, filed a lawsuit against one of the clinics.

In the lawsuit, Itai Gravely, 26, alleges Dr. Rodney Lee Stephens of the Women's Health Center inappropriately proceeded with and conducted an abortion that left "materials of conception" in Gravely's uterus. The center and Stephens deny any allegations of wrong doing, according to a response filed in Kanawha Circuit Court this week.

Morrisey announced his decision to send letters to the clinic almost immediately after Gravely's lawsuit.

"The merits of that lawsuit must still be resolved in court, but it does raise serious questions about how such clinics in West Virginia are inspected and reviewed to ensure patients are safe," Morrisey said in his letters to the clinics.

At the same time, Morrisey pointed to an article in the Daily Mail that quoted then-Department of Health and Human Resources spokeswoman Marsha Dadisman as saying the DHHR does not specifically regulate or license abortion clinics.

Morrisey asked several many-part questions in his letters to the clinics. Both responded, but neither really answered those questions. Each health clinic said they understand the law.

In Wednesday's request for public comment, Morrisey's office provides 10 "broad areas of interest" about which people could comment. The potential comment topics range from regulations at all health care facilities to ideas about gestational age limits. They're similar to the questions included in the letters to the abortion clinics.

The release says comments should be emailed by 5 p.m. Aug. 16 to regulatoryreview@wvago.gov. It doesn't mention whether people who comment need to provide a name.

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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