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Doctor: Abortion patients often end up in ER

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A gynecologist whose statement is at the center of a lawsuit against a Charleston abortion clinic says he sees patients "weekly" with complications from abortions.

Dr. Byron Calhoun, vice chairman of the Obstetrics and Gynecology Department at West Virginia University Physicians of Charleston, wrote a letter outlining his concerns about West Virginia's abortion clinics to Attorney General Patrick Morrisey. Calhoun is also the national medical adviser for an anti-abortion group.

Morrisey is in the midst of a review of the state's abortion clinic regulations. He recently accepted public comments on the issue. He has so far not released the results of that comment period.

The Gazette obtained the letter, dated June 31, 2013, via a public records request.

"We commonly (I personally probably at least weekly) see patients at Women and Children's Hospital in our emergency room or our ultrasound center with complications from abortions at these centers in Charleston: so much for 'safe and legal,' " Calhoun wrote to Morrisey. "These patients are told to come to our hospital because the abortion clinic providers do not have hospital privileges to care for their patients, so we must treat them as emergency 'drop-ins.' "

Calhoun, national medical adviser for the National Institute of Family and Life Advocates, an anti-abortion group, gave an expert statement in the case of Itai Gravely vs. Dr. Rodney Stephens.

In the lawsuit, Gravely alleges Stephens, a physician at Women's Health Center of West Virginia, botched her abortion and left part of a fetus in her uterus.

Calhoun reviewed Gravely's case and wrote a screening certificate of merit affirming that Gravely's procedure had been botched. Under state law, screening certificates of merit are required to be filed in malpractice cases by a health-care provider who is an expert in the particular field of medicine associated with the case.

In his letter to Morrisey, Calhoun called the state's lack of regulations for abortion clinics "shocking."

The medical staff at abortion clinics, like in other medical facilities, are overseen by licensing boards.

Abortion providers should have admitting privileges to treat their own patients at hospitals so the patients do not end up in emergency rooms, Calhoun wrote to Morrisey.

"No other medical providers are allowed to care for patients, have no backup coverage, and then abandon them to the emergency room," he wrote. "We would be held ethically and legally liable.

"The fantasy of women's reproductive health care seems to allow these individuals who perform the abortions some special dispensation to provide substandard care."

Calhoun writes that he is amazed women's reproductive care is allowed to provide clinical services in a "totally unregulated environment."

"Veterinarian clinics and tattoo parlors must comply with more regulations and inspection than an abortion clinic where lives are ended," he wrote. "This is substandard care for women and needs to end!"

Calhoun wrote that West Virginia needs to put informed-consent language into state law, like Texas and other states have done.

Texas law requires women seeking abortions to undergo state-directed counseling that includes information designed to discourage them from having an abortion and then wait 24 hours before having the procedure, according to the Guttmacher Institute, an abortion-rights group. The law in Texas also requires a woman to have an ultrasound before an abortion. The abortion provider must show the picture from the ultrasound to the woman and the woman must obtain the ultrasound at least 24 hours before the procedure if she lives within 100 miles of the abortion clinic.

"This is completely appropriate since the Casey ruling found that women have a right to know what abortion does in ending the life of the baby as well as possibly maternal health effects, which are substantial," he wrote.

Reach Lori Kersey at lori.kersey@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1240.


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