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It's difficult to have an honest discussion of abortion

It is difficult, if not impossible, to have an honest discussion about the appropriate amount of regulation for abortion clinics.

The two sides that drive the debate are entrenched in their positions: the pro-choice movement fears a backdoor approach to outlawing abortion, while the pro-life side wants to roll back Roe v. Wade.

This debate has been rekindled in West Virginia because of two events: a lawsuit by a young woman supported by a faith-based organization claiming a botched abortion at Women's Health Center in Charleston (the center denies the allegation), and an attempt by state Attorney General Patrick Morrisey to get the state's two stand-alone abortion clinics to answer questions about their guidelines and standards.

The abortion clinics have refused to answer Morrisey's questions, saying only that they comply with all the appropriate rules and regulations.

One pro-choice advocate called Morrisey's request for information a "politically motivated inquisition." Another, in an op-ed piece in the Charleston Gazette, said Morrisey had "joined the nationwide GOP assault on women's health and freedom."

Is raising health and safety issues about nursing homes called an assault on seniors? When UMWA President Cecil Roberts questions mine safety is he assaulting the coal industry?

Why is it beyond the pale to ask about the safety procedures at medical offices that perform invasive procedures, especially since many of the patients are young and poor?

West Virginia law requires parental notification for a minor to get an abortion, unless the child can get a doctor (other than the abortion provider) or a judge to excuse that requirement. So if a child can get an abortion without her family knowing, there should be absolute assurance that she's receiving quality care.

Additionally, West Virginia taxpayers pay for some abortions.  A 1993 state Supreme Court decision requires the state to cover the expense of an abortion for a poor woman (income up to 150 percent of the poverty level).  So the state has a vested interest in how the clinics operate.

In fairness, the pro-choice side has good reason to be wary.  If the West Virginia Legislature, which has a large number of pro-life members, began tinkering with abortion clinic standards, it may regulate them right out of business.

But it doesn't have to be that way.

A botched abortion at an unregulated clinic in Maryland led to what the New York Times called "something rare in this era of polarized abortion politics."  The Maryland Legislature passed the state's first system of licensing and inspecting clinics that "improved patient safeguards without imposing costly burdens."

The Times says this was accomplished because health officials, clinic managers and medical groups, not politicians, negotiated the rules.

"Maryland took a thoughtful approach that reflects a balance between ensuring access to service, but also protecting the public health," Heather Howard, a former commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services, told the Times.

West Virginia should consider doing the same.


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