Attorney General Patrick Morrisey reiterated Thursday his belief that Gov. Jim Justice’s executive order suspending elective surgical and medical procedures during the coronavirus pandemic applies to abortions — and hinted at legal action against the only clinic in West Virginia that provides abortion services if it continues to perform abortions.
Asked during Thursday’s daily briefing on the pandemic about concerns that the suspending of elective procedures amounted to a de facto way to limit abortions, Justice handed the question off to Morrisey, saying, “I think our attorney general needs to speak on this more than I.”
Morrisey then said the order is broad-based and applies to all hospitals, clinics and health care facilities in the state.
“There’s going to be a reduction in all elective procedures,” Morrisey said. “No one is going to be singled out.
“There will be a reduction in dental procedures, there will be a reduction in orthopedic procedures, and yes, there will be a reduction in procedures within abortion facilities.”
There was no follow-up question, since the current teleconference format permits one question only from each reporter called on.
Afterward, in the main hallway of the Capitol, Morrisey said of the executive order, “There’s no categorical exemption for abortion. There’s no categorical exemption for any procedure.”
Morrisey said he does not believe language in the governor’s order making an exception for “procedures that cannot be performed consistent with other law at a later date” applies to abortions. Under state law, it is illegal to perform an abortion after 20 weeks of gestation, with a limited number of exceptions.
“This is a broad prohibition on all elective procedures, and there’s no categorical exception of any procedure,” Morrisey said when asked about the intent of the exception language in the order.
“When you have a public health emergency, there’s a specific authority that’s provided to protect the public health,” he said. “That doesn’t just wipe away every law, so you have make sure that any other laws on the books — you analyze them, and that’s why the provision’s there.”
Asked if he plans legal action against the Women’s Health Center of West Virginia, the only facility in the state that performs abortions, Morrisey said, “We’re hopeful that everyone complies with the order, but we’re in consultation with the Governor’s Office and the DHHR about how enforcement will occur.”
In Wednesday’s Gazette-Mail, Katie Quinones, director of the Charleston health center, said it is critical that procedures and medical treatment for pregnant women remain available during the pandemic.
“As medical experts have recognized, even during a pandemic, pregnant people require health care, whether that is abortion care or prenatal care and childbirth services,” she said. “That care cannot be delayed until after this crisis is over.”
Added Morrisey, “We’re in consultation with the regulatory bodies involved, and I’ll have announcements as we’re ready.”
Other topics during Justice’s daily COVID-19 briefing:
- Dr. Clay Marsh, vice president for health sciences at West Virginia University and the state’s COVID-19 czar, addressed whether people should be wearing facemasks during the pandemic.
Marsh said the key to preventing the spread of the virus is to maintain a 6-foot separation from others, the distance considered safe enough to avoid dispersal of droplets containing the virus through coughs or sneezes.
He said a face covering is less to protect oneself from the virus than to prevent spreading the virus to others. To that end, he said, wearing a scarf or bandana over one’s nose and mouth also would have some benefit.
Marsh urged residents to avoid buying medical-grade masks, saying, “We want that for our first responders.”
- National Guard Adj. Gen. James Hoyer said Justice has instructed the Guard to look at all potential sources for obtaining medical equipment and protective gear, not just from the national stockpile.
Hoyer said that hasn’t always worked ideally, citing a tentative deal with a distributor offering 500,000 N95 masks — only to learn that the delivery date for the masks would be in November or December.