CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — An evangelical Christian group that is suing a Charleston clinic launched a campaign Monday urging West Virginia lawmakers to start regulating the abortion industry in the state.
About a dozen lawmakers and anti-abortion activists joined the Family Policy Council of West Virginia in kicking off the effort at the state Capitol.
The Department of Health and Human Resources has said the state does not have a licensing category for abortion clinics or providers, so there is no state agency specifically tasked with inspecting them.
Family Policy Council President Jeremy Dys called the lack of regulations for the industry "unacceptable."
The Legislature is holding interim meetings this week in Charleston. Its next regular session starts in January.
"We want to make sure the Legislature takes the appropriate action over the course of the next year to ... enact regulations that would then regulate the health and safety of the abortion industry in this state," Dys said.
A resolution introduced in the House in April calls for a study of abortion providers. West Virginia's two abortion clinics, the Women's Health Center of West Virginia and Kanawha Surgicenter, are in Charleston.
"It appears that we the legislators have failed to see a need and to provide adequate laws, rules and regulations for these clinics," said Delegate Ricky Moye, D-Raleigh, representing a group of six moderate House Democrats. "To that end, I think there's a challenge for us as legislators to step up to the plate and see that just reasonable care is provided."
The Family Policy Council filed a lawsuit last month on behalf of a woman who claims a Women's Health Center doctor performed an abortion over her objections. Itai Gravely says she asked Dr. Rodney Stephens to stop because she was having severe abdominal pain. The lawsuit also claims the doctor left the fetus' head inside the uterus.
In a court filing, lawyers for the center and Stephens say that Gravely was told that "retained fragments and tissue" could remain after the abortion, that it could lead to the need for further medical attention, and that she underwent the procedure with "informed consent, voluntarily and of her free will."
Delegate John O'Neal, R-Raleigh, said the lawsuit, along with the case of a Philadelphia physician who was sentenced in May to life in prison for killing live babies at his abortion clinic, has brought the issue of regulation to the forefront.
"We've got to do something about this," said Delegate John O'Neal, R-Raleigh. "We have to believe abortions clinics should be regulated like any other surgical facility. So much of this will depend on the leadership in the Legislature. Will the leadership embrace this movement?"
House of Delegates Health chairman Don Perdue, D-Wayne, said it would be premature to address the practices of abortion clinics because numerous questions must be answered first.
"I don't have enough information to make an informed judgment," Perdue said.
Dr. Ron Stollings, a Boone County physician and chairman of the state Senate's Health and Human Resources committee, didn't immediately return a message seeking comment.
According to the Guttmacher Institute, a nonprofit group that advances sexual and reproductive health and rights, West Virginia is one of 11 states that doesn't require a doctor to be licensed when performing an abortion.
Last month, Republican Attorney General Patrick Morrisey said he is investigating whether any regulatory changes are needed. He asked the two clinics to answer a series of questions about their practices and their policies for ensuring patient safety. Both of the clinics declined to answer.
Morrisey also has asked the public to comment on general health care regulation and abortion regulation. A notice on the attorney general's website says that state code only requires informed consent and parental notification. There aren't any laws requiring licensed physicians to perform abortions or limiting the gestational age when an abortion may be performed.