CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A staff lawyer who works for Attorney General Patrick Morrisey answered questions from federal lawmakers about West Virginia abortion regulations about one month before the elected official publicly posed similar questions to the state's two abortion clinics.
In a letter dated May 21, Assistant Attorney General William Jones addressed abortion regulations in West Virginia. He was responding to questions sent by Republican members of the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee to public health agencies in every state.
Morrisey apparently did not know about Jones' answers when he made his June 17 announcement he would seek answers to "significant questions" about abortion laws in the state.
Beth Ryan, a Morrisey spokeswoman, said Jones answered the questions while working for the state Department of Health and Human Resources.
"While Mr. Jones is technically still an employee of the Attorney General's office, at that time he was on loan to the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources as 'interim general counsel.' As such, he was reporting day to day to DHHR personnel on this matter instead of to senior staff in our office," Ryan said in a prepared statement.
Staff lawyers from Morrisey's office are embedded in more than a dozen state agencies. They are still employed by the attorney general and are still considered assistant attorneys general.
Ryan said the attorney general didn't learned about Jones' answers "until it was made public." She's not sure of the date, but said it was after Morrisey sent his letters.
Morrisey's letters went to the Women's Health Center and Kanawha Surgicenter. The two Charleston-based clinics are the only facilities in the state to provide elective abortions.
The congressional questionnaire Jones answered focuses broadly on abortion regulations in the state, while Morrisey specifically questions procedures at the clinics.
One question is the same, and Jones' answers to other questions could also apply to questions in Morrisey's letters.
Both Morrisey and the congressional committee ask how often abortion clinics in the state are inspected by the state. Morrisey's question also asks if a "self-regulatory body" inspects the clinics.
In his letters, Morrisey points to a statement made by a state health department spokeswoman to the Daily Mail. The spokeswoman said the state does not license or inspect clinics that perform abortions.
In response to a different question, Jones said the same thing: the state doesn't license abortion clinics or providers, and therefore has not revoked the license of any such clinic.
Jones also told the committee members that, "abortion, and all medical and surgical procedures performed in West Virginia are conducted in accordance with the existing medical standard of care for such procedures."
Of Morrisey's five questions, two focus on each clinic's understanding of and compliance with laws regarding abortions. One multi-part question asks whether the clinics understand state abortion laws, educate abortion providers about the law and make sure people follow the law.