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Groups protest attorney general's actions on abortion

Oct. 10, 2013 @ 12:00 AM

HUNTINGTON — About 75 abortion rights activists attended a rally Wednesday on the Marshall Memorial Student Center Plaza to protest West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey's review of state abortion providers' policies and procedures.

The "Stand with West Virginia Women Rally," a collaborative effort of at least 15 organizations in West Virginia or on Marshall's campus, is the third protest to criticize Morrisey's decision to send letters to two clinics in Charleston that perform elective abortions.

Protesters at Wednesday's rally shouted chants to remove Morrisey from office and held signs that said "Keep Abortion Safe and Legal" and "Keep your rosaries off my ovaries."

Margaret Chapman Pomponio, executive director of WV FREE, an abortion rights group, called Morrisey's actions a thinly veiled attack on women's reproductive health.

"This attorney general seems determined to take women back in time, " Pomponio said. "We have to send a message that West Virginia women deserve better and that we value women's health over politics."

The letters that Morrisey sent to the abortion clinics in Charleston ask them to provide their interpretation of abortion laws in the state. The letters were sent after a Charleston woman represented by a Christian evangelical group sued one of the clinics in July. The lawsuit filed in Kanawha Circuit Court alleges that Dr. Rodney Lee Stephens of the Women's Health Center conducted an abortion that left part of a fetus in the woman's uterus. The center and Stephens have denied the allegations in court filings.

Morrisey also announced in July that he would accept online public comments about abortion laws as part of his review. The comment period ended in mid-August.

In a prepared statement Wednesday, Morrisey said it is indisputable under West Virginia law that abortion is permitted until birth. His review, however, will focus on the regulatory standards governing abortions.

"Our review is analyzing this question and many others that have been raised by people across the political spectrum," Morrisey said. "After our review concludes, we will be in a position to identify the exact nature of abortion laws and regulations in West Virginia.

Delegate Nancy Peoples Guthrie, D-Kanawha, told the crowd that Morrisey is "waging war at the expense of all women" and urged Marshall students to stand up for their rights before they are chipped away.

"If we give up on this, do you think it will make equal pay for equal work an easier fight? No, it won't," she said. "When you graduate from college, there will be no guarantee that you'll do any better than (Guthrie's generation)."

Those sentiments were echoed by Briana McElfish, a Hurricane native who is in the doctorate of psychology program at Marshall and is a graduate assistant at the Marshall Women's Center. McElfish said she's concerned that the majority of students aren't paying attention to Morrisey's inquiry into abortion laws.

"I'm concerned that we're taking our rights for granted while the attorney general attempts to undermine a woman's ability to access abortions in West Virginia," she said. "If we don't stand up now, they may not be there if we need them in the future."

Previous rallies have been conducted in Charleston and Morgantown. Pomponio said her organization is planning another rally in Charleston during the West Virginia Legislature's 60-day session, which begins in January.

Follow H-D reporter Bryan Chambers on Facebook or Twitter @BryanChambersHD.

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