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WV Attorney General Morrisey receives flood of input on abortion laws

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West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey learned last week that public comment can come in many forms.

Morrisey asked for public comments as part of his review of state abortion regulations, and he received hundreds of them by way of Twitter.

His request for public comment came on the heels of letters he sent in mid-June to the Women's Health Center of West Virginia and also Kanawha Surgicenter to ask about how often they are inspected, whether they have compliance plans, abortion regulations and their relationships with the National Abortion Federation.

Both facilities sent letters back to Morrisey, stating that they follow all laws and regulations.

The last day specified for Morrisey to accept public comment was Aug. 16, and for one hour Aug. 15, several groups planned and executed a "Twitter storm."

Using the hashtag #StandWithWVWomen, hundreds of people and organizations took to their Twitter accounts to express their support access to abortions.

Morrisey had no comment about the flood of Tweets directed toward his office, but the notice for public comment on his website stated that provisions in state code govern abortions, but his office has not found any laws that require abortions be performed by licensed physicians or laws that set a gestational age limit on abortions.

"We are really heartened – there's no other way to put it, really heartened by the response that we're seeing from women and men around the state and around the nation in response to the attorney general's targeting of women's health care providers," Margaret Chapman Pomponio, executive director of WV Free, a pro-choice, nonprofit organization. "The attorney general asked for public comment, which is highly unusual; however, we decided it was important to let voices be heard who support a woman's ability to access comprehensive reproductive health care, and so there have been a number of organizations and individuals all over the place weighing in, and it's been really inspiring."

Chapman Pomponio said the technology of Twitter amplifies people's voices and can be easier than email, but she had never seen so many Tweets for one cause.

"It really did feel like we were in a storm," she said. "We'd never done it before, and we heard about it and thought, ‘let's try that.'

"I think it was really exciting for people. How often do you get to engage in the civic arena in a really fun way?"

She said several organizations helped to plan the "Twitter storm," including Planned Parenthood of West Virginia, ACLU of West Virginia, the National Women's Law Center and National Institute for Reproductive Health. Chapman Pomponio said the energy of the tweeting was positive overall, and she hoped they didn't fall on deaf ears.

Delegate Stephen Skinner, D-Jefferson, took the issue to heart and sent letters this week to Crisis Pregnancy Centers throughout the state, noting that nearly 50 businesses in West Virginia offer the appearance of clinics that provide comprehensive reproductive health care but may not have any licensed medical providers.

"A woman who is seeking medical assistance may be deceived by these centers' names, advertising and locations into believing she will receive comprehensive reproductive care," Skinner said in a news release. "These Crisis Pregnancy Centers are not licensed or regulated by the state, and there just isn't much factual information out there about them."

The subject is an important one for the anti-abortion group West Virginians for Life as well. The group issued a statement Aug. 19 supporting Morrisey's call for regulation and inspection of abortion facilities throughout the state.

"Contrary to the claims of the pro-abortion lobby, it is not ‘pro-woman' to subject women, with a problem pregnancy, to substandard and unregulated medical facilities that wouldn't be tolerated in general medical practice," WVFL President Wanda Franz, Ph.D., said in a news release. "Our tax dollars are being funneled into an unregulated industry with no state oversight regarding the use of our money.

"It is well within the purview of the Attorney General to call for discussion on state oversight of the use of the people's tax dollars."

West Virginians For Life Program Director Mary Anne Buchanan said she found it hard to believe the request for public comment "would create such a firestorm."

Pam VanHorn with Planned Parenthood said she was excited to see so many groups and organizations participate in the "Twitter storm," and it was a perfect example of how social media can grow a conversation.

"They made it clear to the West Virginia Attorney General that we will not go back in time in West Virginia; that a woman's decision is her right," VanHorn said. "Probably the most difficult decision any woman will ever make is whether or not to terminate a pregnancy, and we trust a woman who has looked at that, weighed her options and made that decision has done so with the full knowledge of what's best for both her and her family.

"We are going to work to protect her ability to make those personal decisions on her own and not have politicians do it for them."

The pro-abortion coalition, which includes the American Civil Liberties Union of West Virginia, Fairness West Virginia, the West Virginia Nurses Association and WV Free, scheduled a rally Nov. 20 to protest Morrisey's actions they have said will limit a woman's access to abortion care.