West Virginia Doctor Who Claimed to See "Weekly" Abortion Injuries May Have Made It All Up

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What Women Really Think
Feb. 14 2014 10:58 AM

West Virginia Doctor Who Claimed to See "Weekly" Abortion Injuries May Have Made It All Up

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Recent evidence that West Virginia's abortion clinics are dangerous appears not to be true.

Photo by Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

Are the abortion clinics in West Virginia dangerous places that need to be under special scrutiny and slammed with a bunch of regulations that don't apply to any other clinics performing similar medical interventions? West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrissey thinks so and has been on a crusade to make that happen. One piece of evidence that Morrissey has been using to demonstrate the supposedly dangerous conditions in West Virginia abortion clinics is a letter from Dr. Bryan Calhoun, the vice chair of the West Virginia University Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology. Calhoun wrote a very concerning letter to the attorney general about what he sees in his practice at Charleston Area Medical Center Women and Children’s Hospital. The Charleston Gazette reported on the letter last summer

"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 Morrissey. "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.'"
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Calhoun, who also works for the anti-choice National Institute of Family and Life Advocates, seems to be angling for West Virginia to require hospital admitting privileges for abortion providers, a common strategy anti-choice lawmakers use to shut down abortion clinics. Pro-choicers argue that the privileges are unnecessary and unobtainable. Hospitals often refuse to give doctors admitting privileges, and hospital complications arising from abortion are so rare, they say. Calhoun's letter, however, suggested otherwise. 

Well, it looks like Calhoun made it all up. Friday, RH Reality Check reported that S. Andrew Weber, the vice president and administrator of the Charleston Area Medical Center Women and Children’s Hospital, is directly contradicting Calhoun's claim that there are weekly incidents of botched abortions at their hospital. Instead, Weber writes, there were only five abortion patients in all of 2012 admitted to the hospital and only two who were admitted for abortion complications. (The others appear to be cases of molar or ectopic pregnancies, which have to be aborted no matter what.) In addition, RH Reality Check discovered that despite his supposed stream of abortion-injured patients, Calhoun never once reported any incidents to the West Virginia Board of Medicine. 

Interestingly, the image Calhoun invoked is a familiar one: It recalls the testimony of doctors who saw often gruesome abortion injuries in the years before Roe v. Wade, often because desperate women tried to abort their own pregnancies. There's an ugly irony at work here, with anti-choicers co-opting these incidents to shut down the very clinics that help prevent these kinds of injuries from happening in the first place. State delegate Nancy Peoples Guthrie has requested that the state medical board investigate Calhoun, and under the circumstance, that appears to be the only responsible course of action. 

Amanda Marcotte is a Brooklyn-based writer and DoubleX contributor. She also writes regularly for the Daily Beast, AlterNet, and USA Today

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