Pro-choice groups protest Morrisey at Capitol
Hundreds of women - and men - rallied in the Capitol Rotunda Tuesday with outstretched arms holding pink and purple signs that read "I Stand with WV Women," "Get a uterus Morrisey & then complain," and "No politicians in the exam room."
The rally was in response to recent actions by new state Attorney General Patrick Morrisey regarding abortion regulations in West Virginia.
Morrisey has publicly questioned the state's two abortion clinics and asked the public to weigh in on the controversial subject. He says the public input will help him decide whether more regulations are needed.
WV Free, a pro-choice group, hosted the rally in conjunction with several others.
Morrisey, whose campaign website says he will "fight to protect the unborn," sent letters questioning the abortion clinics' practices and knowledge of regulations in June.
Margaret Chapman Pomponio, WV Free executive director, said women's health providers follow the same regulations as other medical providers, and the attorney general is singling them out to advance a political agenda.
"We do believe that women's health providers shouldn't be singled out and targeted," she said.
"That's what makes his motive so clear here. Out of the hundreds of medical malpractice suits filed in West Virginia every year, he has focused on one that hasn't even been litigated yet and used it as an excuse to launch his personal political agenda."
The state's two abortion clinics - Women's Health Center on Charleston's West Side and Kanawha Surgicenter in Kanawha City - are neither licensed nor inspected by the state. The doctors who practice in those clinics are licensed, however.
The state Department of Health and Human Resources also doesn't inspect other kinds of health care facilities such as family practitioners, dentists or physical therapists.
The West Virginia Board of Medicine also acts as a governing body for individual physicians, including abortion providers.
The National Abortion Federation, a professional association of abortion providers in North America, offers training and services to its members and conducts inspections at member sites every three to five years, President and CEO Vicki Saporta has said.
Both clinics are members of the federation.
While membership is voluntary, Saporta said reputable providers choose to join. Saporta noted that both West Virginia clinics are in good standing.
Pomponio said part of the mission of the rally was to make it clear that abortion clinics are indeed regulated.
"Women's health care providers shouldn't be singled out and treated differently with overregulation," Pomponio said.
"We hope the attorney general will listen to the people of West Virginia and hear our call to back off of women's health. It's not something to be politicized and really made a mockery of from the Attorney General's Office.
"As advocates of women's health, we steadfastly believe that regulation and quality delivery of care is of the utmost importance, so we're trying to send a message that these clinics are regulated like other health facilities."
She joined a host of other speakers:
Chants rang through the hallway - with some of them pointed in Morrisey's direction - demanding women maintain control of their bodies and stand in solidarity.
"Hey, hey. Ho, ho. Patrick Morrisey has to go!"
"Patrick Morrisey, back away. Abortion rights are here to stay."
Betty Totten, 74, of Ravenswood, said, "Attorney General Morrisey is trying to take away the rights of women, and we need to stand up against him.
"He came here with an agenda, and it doesn't concern anything about the health and welfare of women."
Carrying a sign, Ginny Moles, 64, of Cross Lanes, said, "He's picking on two clinics in Kanawha County that provide services to women in need, and it's not just abortion."
"They actually provide other services as well. He needs to mind the business of the state. He needs to carry on some of the lawsuits that Attorney General (Darrell) McGraw was doing to bring money back to the state for the people. Not picking on women."
Aretha Franklin's "Respect" played through the rotunda while those in attendance clapped and danced.
Sue Bayliss, 70, of St. Albans, said, "Voting rights are next. We're here in support of all women - all women. Young and old. We have to stick together. Shame on Morrisey, that's all I can say about him."
The sea of signs had just a few in opposition above the rally on the second floor. One sign read "Courageously abolishing abortion," and another was "I am the pro-life generation."
Morrisey released a statement Tuesday.
"Our review is focusing on the laws governing abortion regulation in the state of West Virginia. For example, under the law it is indisputable that abortion is permitted until birth in our state. That's up until birth, not until 20 or 30 weeks," the statement read.
"What are the regulatory standards in West Virginia for governing abortions, which are legal in the state until birth? Our review is analyzing this question and many others that have been raised by people across the political spectrum.
"After our review concludes, we will be in a position to identify the exact nature of abortion laws and regulations in West Virginia."
In an apparent response to Morrisey's move, Delegate Skinner sent letters to 37 "pregnancy crisis centers" Friday. The centers typically oppose abortion, and Skinner said he wants to know more about their practices, namely whether they mislead women about their services.
"I am deeply concerned that women may be deceived by a (center's) name, advertising and location into believing that it offers comprehensive reproductive care, including contraception and abortion, or at the very least, referrals for those services," Skinner wrote.
Skinner's letters are the latest in a public abortion debate that has grown more heated in the last few months. His action shed some light on the centers, which are known to traditionally oppose abortion and offer information about adoptions and other services.
Morrisey sent his letters to abortion providers in June, questioning compliance and inspections. The letters came on the heels of a lawsuit filed by a Charleston woman against Dr. Rodney Lee Stephens and the Women's Health Center.
The Family Policy Council of West Virginia, a conservative pro-life group, is representing Itai Gravely, who alleged Stephens botched her abortion and left the head of the fetus in her uterus.