West Virginia Anti-Choice Doctor Could Face Disciplinary Actions


Click here for all our coverage of Dr. Byron Calhoun.

Here’s a conundrum for anti-choice campaigners in West Virginia: What’s worse? Having one of their most prominent activists admit he lied to the state attorney general and, through him, to the public? Or having that campaigner face disciplinary actions by the state medical board for breaching state legal requirements?

Those appear to be the choices facing prominent anti-choice activist Dr. Byron Calhoun, who is vice chair of the West Virginia University Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, as a result of some headline-grabbing claims he made in a letter to West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrissey last June.

“We commonly (I personally probably at least weekly) see patients at Women’s and Children’s Hospital with complications from abortions at these centers in Charleston: so much for ‘safe and legal,’” wrote Calhoun. “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.’”

It’s an alarming allegation—painting a scene of countless women seeking help after injuries from abortions—and one that fits perfectly into the newly revamped anti-choice rhetoric that focuses on “protecting” women, instead of fetuses.

Calhoun, though, has never provided a shred of evidence to support those frightening claims.

Nor, it turns out, has he ever reported a single incident of an abortion-related injury to the West Virginia Board of Medicine, the body responsible for regulating and disciplining doctors in that state.

And that’s what gives rise to Calhoun’s current dilemma.

Under West Virginia law, a medical doctor is required to report any issues relating to another physician’s standard of care or competency to the medical board, according its executive director, Robert C. Knittle.

In an email to RH Reality Check, Knittle said the law “stipulates that a physician may be disciplined if they failed to report” issues of that nature.

Knittle also noted that the American Medical Association Code of Medical Ethics requires doctors to report instances of “incompetence or substandard care” to the appropriate clinical authority so it can assess the potential impact on patient welfare.

But Knittle confirmed that Calhoun has made no such report to the state medical board.

“The West Virginia Board of Medicine is not aware of any claims in reference to any hospital regarding alleged injuries stemming from abortions,” Knittle said.

Reproductive health advocates say Calhoun’s failure to report the alleged injuries to women casts further doubt over the veracity of those claims.

“The reason he hasn’t made these reports, I would imagine, is because there are no reports to make,” said Vicki Saporta, president and CEO of the National Abortion Federation. “He’s making unfounded assertions based on his own political agenda, which is not fitting for the vice chair of the obstetrics and gynecology department at a major university.”

Indeed, Calhoun’s political agenda is well known. He serves as the national medical advisor to the National Institute of Family and Life Advocates, a prominent anti-choice group. Neither Calhoun nor the institute replied to RH Reality Check’s emails seeking comment for this story.

This legal requirement also raises concerns for West Virginia University (WVU), where Calhoun remains on staff both as vice chair of the OB-GYN department and as a non-tenure track professor.

In his letter to Morrisey, Calhoun claimed he was not the only university employee who frequently sees women with injuries stemming from abortions. If his claims are true, that could leave other WVU staff open to disciplinary proceedings.

A spokesperson said the university has no comment on these matters.

Based on the available evidence, it appears that Calhoun has a tough choice to make: Either he can produce the evidence to back up his claims, and risk disciplinary action for his failure to fulfill his legal and ethical duties to report those injures. Or he must admit that he did not have that evidence, and that the claims were untrue.

Either way, pro-choice advocates are calling for swift action.

“Calhoun should be required to provide evidence for his assertions, which are not credible based on the safety of abortion,” said Saporta, who noted that abortion is one of the safest medical procedures performed in the United States. “If he’s making unfounded assertions as the vice chair of obstetrics and gynecology at West Virginia University, he should face disciplinary proceedings.”

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Follow Sharona Coutts on twitter: @sharonacoutts

  • http://plumstchili.blogspot.com/ Plum Dumpling

    The only arguments the antichoice can make are lies or shaming/blaming. The facts about abortion do not support their story or their intentions.

    • HeilMary1

      I’ll bet plenty of his patients have been injured by his anti-choice MALPRACTICE.

      • http://plumstchili.blogspot.com/ Plum Dumpling

        Probably would not have to look far.

    • cjvg

      Facts are not important.

      Faith is were its at, and anti-choicers have all the faith they need that whatever they allege is wrong with abortion and providing reproductive care, will eventually become true as long as they just wish for it long enough!

      Yep that’s right, they just wish for this to be true (!) and that should be good enough for the rest of us.

      • http://plumstchili.blogspot.com/ Plum Dumpling

        Well said. You describe the illness succinctly and accurately.

      • CJ99

        I’m still wishing for santa claws too but unlike the religious wrong I don’t think he’ll show just cause I pray hard enough.

      • Defamate

        I need your advice on another neuroscience question, if you are avalable.

        Some guy is claiming to be an embryologist, and he is saying that the brainwaves at 6 weeks are meaningful…(and not just from the brainstem)

        He is also saying that braindeath = complete braindeath, including the brainstem, and not just the cessation of function in the cortex. Of course, there would appear to be some disagreement on this issue, as Terri Schiavo was allowed to die!

  • marshmallow

    Anti choicers support lying if it helps their cause. They will just be unhappy that he got caught.

    • http://plumstchili.blogspot.com/ Plum Dumpling

      Lying for Jesus.

      • CJ99

        Luckily Jesus won’t lie for them in return.

        • http://plumstchili.blogspot.com/ Plum Dumpling

          He seems to be stubborn that way.

          • CJ99

            & they’ll make it sound like a bad thing.

  • http://littlemisshaldol.tumblr.com/ LittleMissMellaril

    Well, if he did not report medical abuse or neglect when he saw it (which I doubt) then it is good that he is being punished. The pro-liars should be happy about this according to their ideology. But of course, women don’t matter to them, only the baby’s! Who cares if a woman dies, not like she might have other precious children to take care of!

    Does he let rapes go unreported too?

  • HazumuOsaragi

    Sucks to be him right now…