Abortion providers respond to AG's request for information
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Both of West Virginia's elective abortion providers have responded to Attorney General Patrick Morrisey's request for information about their policies and procedures, although neither provided the kind of answers Morrisey had in mind.
Morrisey sent out letters to the Women's Health Center and Kanawha Surgicenter after a Kanawha County woman filed a lawsuit against Women's Health Center last month.
Itai Gravely, 26, alleges Dr. Rodney Lee Stephens continued an abortion after she experienced excessive pain and told him to stop. The lawsuit also said Stephens left parts of the fetus in her uterus.
Following the lawsuit, Morrisey requested information about how often the clinics are inspected by the state or other entities; their knowledge of federal, state and local abortion laws; whether the clinics have a "compliance plan" to follow those laws; whether they are affiliated with the National Abortion Federation, which regulates member clinics; and specifics about elective abortion procedures performed at the clinics.
Neither of the clinics answered any of those questions.
"The center is not in the position of providing substantive responses to your letter," Sharon Lewis, executive director of the Women's Health Center, wrote.
"Our center is a defendant in a civil litigation matter and, upon advice of counsel, we must decline to respond to your inquiries and allow the discovery process and justice system to address those matters."
Dr. Gorli Harish, managing physician of Kanawha Surgicenter, provided a similar response.
"While we are unaware of any legal obligation to respond to your letter, we have no objection to confirming that we follow all federal, state and local laws and that we provide the highest quality of medical care available," he wrote.
"Our mission is to continue to work every day to make sure West Virginia women receive the medical care they need to stay healthy, to care for themselves and to care for their families."
In his original letter, Morrisey asked that clinics submit their responses by the end of business on Monday, July 1. Although the letter from Women's Health Center is dated July 1, the Attorney General's Office did not receive it until Tuesday. Harish, who was out of town when Morrisey sent his letter and only recently returned to Charleston, faxed his response Tuesday afternoon.
Harish previously told the Daily Mail he didn't think Morrisey's request was necessary because his office is a private practice, receives no public money and follows all state and federal regulations.
"It's almost like asking ... regulating every physician's or dentist's office practice. I guess it's getting a special impetus because it's abortion," Harish said at the time. "I'm sure incidents happen in many medical practices or many dental practices. But it's only because of the abortion that he's putting more focus on it."
Harish expressed a similar concern in his letter.
"We along with doctors and other West Virginians dedicated to women's health are concerned when, if ever, any state official may single out certain health care providers for scrutiny for reasons unrelated to medical care and public health," he said.
Speaking on Tuesday, Harish said he only responded to Morrisey "to be courteous to the attorney general.
"I don't know if I had to or not," he said.
Pro-choice groups like West Virginia Free and the West Virginia chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union questioned Morrisey's motives in sending the letters, suggesting the move was politically motivated.
Morrisey released a letter defending his actions, dismissing the criticisms as "scare tactics."
On Tuesday, his office indicated no disappointment with the clinics' brief responses.
"We will continue our efforts to review the state of abortion regulation in West Virginia and seek to ensure that women's health is protected," he said in a prepared statement.