Charleston council votes down syringe services proposal from Women’s Health Center 

By: - August 8, 2023 6:00 am

The Women’s Health Center of West Virginia, located on the West Side of Charleston, W.Va. (Lexi Browning | West Virginia Watch)

Charleston officials on Monday soundly voted down a proposal from the state’s former sole abortion provider to offer syringe services on the city’s West Side. 

Charleston City Council voted 17 to 9 against the plan from the Women’s Health Center of West Virginia. 

The clinic sought approval from a majority of council members to obtain a license from the state of West Virginia to distribute syringes as a part of a harm reduction program. It would have been the second program in the county and the first operating on the West Side. 

Mayor Amy Goodwin was among those who opposed the resolution. Goodwin said she supports harm reduction programs but had issues with the clinic’s plan.

“My challenge with this particular application was the location, the feedback that I got from council members, the speed and the urgency which this was put upon,” Goodwin told reporters. 

More than 60 people attended a public hearing about the Women’s Health Center’s proposal on July 27. Goodwin said the city administration was pressured by council members who supported the proposal to have the vote Monday. Goodwin wanted to have the vote at the next scheduled meeting, Aug. 21.

“So I said, I will [put the vote on Monday’s agenda] but I haven’t had time to do my due diligence, as did a lot of people in this room tonight who voted no, who shared that with me,” Goodwin said. “If you’re not going to give us time to have conversations and have meetings, that’s not something that I can support.”

Goodwin said she wanted to have meetings with members of the medical community about rates of disease, and with people who run the clinic.

Harm reduction coordinator Iris Sidikman provided record of a web submission form that showed the clinic requested a private meeting with Goodwin about its syringe services distribution proposal on June 14. 

Goodwin agreed that the clinic reached out in June, between Regatta and other scheduling conflicts, “[we] couldn’t make it work. But I thought I had until the 21st.”

The Women’s Health Center was the state’s only abortion provider for five years until state lawmakers passed a near total ban on the procedure last year. 

Kanawha County’s HIV cases tied to injection drug use have increased in recent years, leading to a representative from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to tell local leaders it had “the most concerning” outbreak in the country in 2021. 

Those numbers are only recently beginning to decline for the first time since 2018. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, syringe services programs help stop the transmission of HIV and other blood borne illnesses like Hepatitis C among people who inject drugs. Syringe services programs have been a contentious topic in Charleston and state politics for several years.

Besides Goodwin, council members Pam Burka, Brent Burton, Becky Ceperley, Jeanine Faegre, Michael Ferrell, John Gianola, Bobby Hass, Pat Jones, Bruce King, Sam Minardi, Larry Moore, Chuck Overstreet, Chad Robinson, Patrick Salango, Shannon Snodgrass and Shawn Taylor voted against allowing the clinic to offer syringe services. 

Those who voted yes were: Frank Annie, Mary Beth Hoover, Caitlin Cook, Beth Kerns, Emmett Pepper, Jennifer Pharr, Kathy Rubio, Joe Solomon and Chelsea Steelhammer. 


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Lori Kersey
Lori Kersey

Lori Kersey is a reporter with a decade of experience reporting in West Virginia. She covers state government for West Virginia Watch.