The director of West Virginia’s largest reproductive-health-advocacy organization has penned an open letter to the head of West Virginia University’s Health Sciences Center, calling for the termination of Charleston-based obstetrician Dr. Byron Calhoun for his involvement in a dismissed abortion lawsuit and now-debunked claims surrounding the number of “botched abortions” he has seen as a physician.
In her letter to Dr. Clay Marsh, vice president and executive dean of WVUHSC, Margaret Chapman Pomponio, executive director of WV FREE, wrote that she was compelled to address the issue of Calhoun again after reading an interview in the Gazette in which Marsh addresses Calhoun’s employment.
When asked last week about Calhoun, a WVU-Charleston physician at CAMC Women and Children’s Hospital who played a role in a botched-abortion lawsuit that was dismissed recently by a Kanawha County judge, Marsh said he was aware of the situation and that the university was taking the appropriate steps to assess whether it would retain Calhoun.
“We respect the First Amendment rights of our faculty, as well as the citizens of the state, and we are investigating that to understand the depth and the details of exactly what happened, as well as to see if there is any other activity that would make us concerned about that particular physician,” Marsh said. “That particular situation is challenging, from my read of it, but we are looking into it and we will make a decision jointly with the people here, because this is really a Charleston-area issue, and my goal is to empower our regional dean, John Linton, and the people at CAMC to make that determination.”
Marsh and Linton did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the letter Tuesday.
“Calhoun is on a crusade. He is ruthless and has demonstrated he will lie, connive and manipulate to serve what he believes is a higher calling,” Pomponio wrote.
Calhoun is the national medical adviser for the National Institute of Family and Life Advocates, an anti-abortion organization that trains and provides legal counsel to “life-affirming pregnancy resources centers,” according to the group’s website. He is also vice chairman of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at WVU School of Medicine’s Charleston Division.
As part of a 2013 lawsuit filed by the Family Policy Council of West Virginia on behalf of Itai Gravely, Calhoun asserted he had found the head of a 13-week-old fetus inside Gravely’s uterus after treating her for post-abortion complications. Despite this, Calhoun did not contact Gravely about his alleged discovery until a year after treating her, and a follow-up procedure at CAMC found no fetal remains. Calhoun also encouraged Gravely to contact attorney Jeremiah Dys of the Family Policy Council.
In her dismissal, Kanawha Circuit Judge Joanna Tabit concluded that Gravely didn’t tell health-care providers at the clinic she was addicted to heroin, “which may have caused later complications when pain-relieving measures were employed during the procedure.”
Also in 2013, Calhoun wrote a letter outlining his concerns about West Virginia’s abortion clinics to Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, claiming he saw patients “weekly” with complications from abortions. Statistics from CAMC’s Women and Children’s Hospital indicate that in 2012, the hospital saw only five women with legally induced abortions in its emergency department and just two who actually had complications — data within range or lower than statistics reported on the national level.
Pomponio included her own personal experience with WVU Health Care in the letter, writing that she and her husband sought fertility treatment at WVU Physicians of Charleston, and are now expecting twins. Pomponio wanted to continue treatment with another physician at the practice, she wrote, but learned that Calhoun is its only maternal-fetal medicine specialist, and could potentially be called to treat her high-risk pregnancy. Pomponio added that she has been forced to seek care outside Charleston at Marshall University’s Division of Obstetrics and Gynecology, and that she is aware of others who have sought care outside Charleston to avoid Calhoun.
“After discussion with my husband, we decided that I cannot take the chance that I might need specialized care by this man, as it is abundantly clear that he is unable to provide unbiased treatment or consultation. It is disturbing to me that because he is the only specialist at WVU/CAMC, anyone could end up as his patient,” she wrote. “Dr. Calhoun prevented me from receiving care in my home town.”
Pomponio acknowledged that Calhoun “[provides] good care to women expecting children who will be born with special needs,” but wrote that care “does not compensate for his unwillingness to provide unbiased care to all patients.”
“His retention is unfair to the other excellent providers at Women and Children’s and WVU Physicians of Charleston. It is unfair to patients. His crusade has made him a threat to public health in the Kanawha Valley,” she wrote.
Reach Lydia Nuzum at email@example.com, 304-348-5189 or follow @lydianuzum on Twitter.