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Morrisey to assess state’s abortion regulations

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Shortly after the Family Policy Council filed a lawsuit against a Charleston clinic alleging a fetus' head was still inside a woman's uterus following an abortion procedure, the West Virginia attorney general has sent letters to two clinics, seeking to assess abortion regulations in the state.

Attorney General Patrick Morrisey sent letters to the Women's Health Center of West Virginia and Kanawha Surgicenter, both in Charleston, asking questions about how often clinics are inspected, understanding of abortion regulations, whether the clinics have compliance plans and their relationships with the National Abortion Federation.

Morrisey also asked about what types of procedures are used, the maximum gestational age, preferred methods of performing abortion and the amount of anesthesia to administer.

The letters ask the clinics to send responses by July 1.

"Recent events raise significant questions about how abortion clinics are regulated in the Mountain State," Morrisey said in a media release, noting a Kanawha County Circuit Court suit. "The merits of that lawsuit must still be resolved in court, but it does raises serious questions about how such clinics in West Virginia are inspected and reviewed to ensure patients are safe."

The Family Policy Council of West Virginia filed the suit June 6 on behalf of Itai Gravely. Gravely went to the Women's Health Center of West Virginia for an abortion procedure.

The lawsuit says Dr. Rodney Stephens gave a sedative to Gravely, but during the procedure Gravely asked to stop the abortion because of extreme pain.

The lawsuit alleges Stephens ignored Gravely's request and physically restrained her with the help of clinic assistants.

Gravely called an ambulance and was rushed to CAMC Women's and Children's Hospital the next day, the lawsuit says. An ultrasound performed by CAMC medical staff showed that Gravely was thirteen weeks pregnant. The staff then removed remainders of the fetus or "products of conception" from Gravely's uterus.

Under West Virginia state law, abortions are legal until week 24 of pregnancy. Most clinics prefer to perform procedures during the first trimester for safety reasons, said Dr. Jessica Bartley, who specializes in obstetrics and gynecology at CAMC Women's and Children's Hospital.

"Importantly, Ms. Gravely's lawsuit has revealed potential gaps in West Virginia's regulation of abortion clinics," the letter reads.

Morrisey's letter cites an interview with a Department of Health and Human Resources spokeswoman who said there is not a state agency that specifically inspects clinics that perform abortions.

"The state regulates doctors, nurses, dentists, accountants, architects, chiropractors, social workers, real estate appraisers, massage therapists, acupuncturists, barbers, and cosmetologists," Morrisey  said in the release. "But abortion clinics in West Virginia are neither licensed nor regulated by the State," Morrisey said. "Regardless of one's position on abortion, the State needs to evaluate this basic fact."