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HCA data: Few women hospitalized after abortions

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- It's unclear how many women are treated for abortion-related complications in West Virginia emergency rooms, but few, if any, are admitted to a hospital, according to the latest data available from the state Health Care Authority.In 2010 and 2011, five women each year were admitted to West Virginia hospitals for complications stemming from abortion and ectopic and molar pregnancies, according to Jim Pitrolo, chairman of the HCA.It is unclear if these complications were from legally induced abortion procedures or if they were miscarriages. None of the complications were specifically labeled to reflect a legally induced abortion.Neither the HCA nor the state Board of Medicine keeps track of emergency room visits.Abortion safety has been the subject of a review by West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, who has looked into the state's regulations concerning the procedure.Dr. Byron Calhoun, an anti-abortion advocate and vice chairman of the Obstetrics and Gynecology Department at West Virginia University Physicians of Charleston, wrote in a letter to Morrisey that he sees women with complications related to abortions on a weekly basis."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 last summer. "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.'"
Margaret Chapman Pomponio, executive director of WV FREE, an abortion-rights organization, said she is heartened but not surprised that few women are admitted to the hospital for abortion-related complications."We know that abortion is one of the safest medical procedures available," Chapman Pomponio wrote in an email to the Gazette-Mail. "Unfortunately, Dr. Calhoun's claims remain unsubstantiated and yet they are being used to advance the attorney general's political agenda aimed at creating new restrictive laws."We are glad that the facts seem to be coming together," she said. "The only fact that has been abundantly clear all along is that Dr. Calhoun is radically opposed to abortion. This leads the public and the women's health community to question the credibility of his allegations. Women's health and safety are our chief concerns so we want to get to the bottom of this."Calhoun did not respond to requests for comment for this report.His letter to Morrisey was the basis for Delegate Nancy Guthrie's recent complaint against him to the Board of Medicine. In her letter, three weeks ago, Guthrie argued that Calhoun either knowingly made false statements about the complications or failed to notify the Board of Medicine of the "incompetence or substandard care" offered by the state's abortion clinics.Calhoun, in turn, called Guthrie's letter a political stunt. Her letter misquoted Calhoun, the doctor wrote in his response."In no place did I make reference to 'botched abortions,' as your letter asserts," Calhoun wrote. "My statements were directed at 'complications from abortions,' which cover a broad spectrum of medical problems. These range from minor bleeding, a common side effect of an abortion, to more serious complications. As I stated, complications from abortions are quite common in our emergency room. Due to my position as a high risk perinatologist and on-call physician, I see and treat many of the women that come to our hospital with these problems."Reach Lori Kersey at or 304-348-1240.
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