Wednesday, July 30, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

Deceitful scofflaw or skilled caregiver? Dueling views of abortion doctor Steven Brigham

On Wednesday, Steven C. Brigham, the New Jersey doctor who runs a chain of abortion clinics in at least three states faces a hearing where he must show why the state board of medicine shouldn't take away his medical license.

Deceitful scofflaw or skilled caregiver? Dueling views of abortion doctor Steven Brigham

Dr. Steven Brigham, right, confers with his attorney, Joseph Gorrell<br />before his hearing Wednesday at the NJ Board of Medical Examiners, his attorney, Joseph Gorrell is seated on left. (Ed Hille/Staff<br />Photographer)
Dr. Steven Brigham, right, confers with his attorney, Joseph Gorrell before his hearing Wednesday at the NJ Board of Medical Examiners, his attorney, Joseph Gorrell is seated on left. (Ed Hille/Staff Photographer)

UPDATE:

Reported by Inquirer medical writer Marie McCullough in Trenton:

Abortion doctor Steven Brigham was portrayed as a dangerous scofflaw and a skilled and conscientious care giver in dueling presentations at the start of a hearing in Trenton to determine whether he will keep his New Jersey Medical license.

The New Jersey Board of Medical Examiners, which the hearing at 2 pm, is looking into whether Brigham falsified medical records, misled patients in advertisements, and endangered them by doing late-term abortions in his Voorhees, N.J. clinic even though it does not meet safety requirements for outpatient surgery.

The board rejected the request of Brigham’s lawyer Joseph Gorrell of Roseland, N.J. that the case be dismissed because the board had already ruled in two cases in the 1990s that the doctor’s actions were legal.

The medical board allowed the case to proceed saying the differences between the current charges and the earlier cases were “substantial.”

New Jersey Deputy Attorney General Jeri Warhaftig said the abortion doctor was “grossly negligent” for transporting some patients to Maryland to take advantage of disparities in the two states’ abortion laws

The first two witnesses yesterday were obstetricians Gary Mucciolo of New York City and Rengan Rajan from Philadelphia who both defended the quality of the care that Brigham provided for his patients.

Mucciolo said that it wasn’t risky to send patients an hour away to a Brigham-owned clinic in Elkton, Md. after initiating the abortion at his offices in Voorhees. And the doctor said that loading an injured patient at the Elkton clinic into a car and driving her to the hospital was not dangerous because she was stable and not bleeding.

Mucciolo said the abortions described in the charges against Brigham were performed “the way they are typically and safely done.”

And he praised Brigham for going to a patient’s hotel room at midnight to treat her for abdominal pain and urinary obstruction, but acknowledged under questioning from Warhaftig that Brigham may have done so avoid detection of the abortion by keeping the woman from going to the hospital.

Rajan also testified that Brigham had met the “standard of care” in the abortions he performed. Rajan who served as the director of a Philadelphia abortion clinic in May was forced to explain why he’d left that affiliation off his resume.

“You won’t get promotions, you pay a price for serving women,” he said. “We have created a major crisis. There are very few doctors trained to do abortions.”

After a break, Brigham was scheduled to testify before the board.

UPDATE:

The start of the Brigham hearing was delayed. After the hearing began The Associated Press filed the following:

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) - The New Jersey attorney general’s office says an abortion doctor was “grossly negligent” for transporting some patients to Maryland to take advantage of disparities in the two states’ abortion laws.

New Jersey is seeking to have Dr. Steven Brigham’s license suspended or revoked. A state disciplinary panel for doctors began hearing arguments in the case Wednesday.

Brigham’s lawyer asked the board to dismiss the case. He said the same panel ruled in two cases in the 1990s that the two-state procedure was legal.

But the board found “substantial differences” from those cases, which also involved Brigham. The panel is allowing arguments to continue.

Brigham is from Voorhees, N.J., and took some patients to Elkton, Md., which is about a two-hour drive away.

Earlier, Inquirer medical writer Marie McCullough provided the background for today's hearing:

Abortion doctor Steven Brigham may be feeling a sense of deja vu.

Brigham, 54, on Wednesday has a hearing in Trenton before the New Jersey Board of Medical Examiners to say why he should not lose his medical license. He will be defending himself against some of the same charges he faced in the mid-1990s, including falsifying medical records, misleading advertising, and endangering patients by doing late-term abortions in his Voorhees, N.J. clinic even though it does not meet safety requirements for outpatient surgery.

In legal papers, Brigham contends New Jersey’s Attorney General can’t prosecute him again because he was “exonerated” in 1996 of all but the misleading advertising charge, and his license was fully reinstated.

New Jersey Deputy Attorney General Jeri Warhaftig, who is leading the current prosecution, responded that Brigham’s contention is “ludicrous.”

Brigham has spent much of his 20-year career fighting lawsuits and disciplinary actions in multiple states. His Voorhees-based chain of abortion clinics, called American Women’s Services, operates in New Jersey, Maryland and Virginia. (Pennsylvania in July barred him from owning clinics there because he persistently employeed unlicensed caregivers; he is appealing that ruling.)

A key issue now — just as 17 years ago — involves Brigham’s practice of beginning late-term abortions in Voorhees, then completing the procedures in a different state.

Authorities allege that Brigham inserted rods to gradually dilate patients' cervixes, and gave drugs to kill their fetuses and induce labor, all in Voorhees. The next day, he led patients in a car caravan to his clinic in Elkton, Md., where he or a doctor under his direction extracted the fetuses.

The N.J. Attorney General alleges that this scheme not only put patients’ health at risk, but enabled Brigham to do abortions beyond 14 weeks of pregnancy, in violation of state rules. Brigham’s six New Jersey clinics are not equipped for such risky operations.

In legal papers, Brigham contends he is not violating the law because an administrative judge concluded in 1996 that inserting dilators is not the same thing as an abortion.

However, that judge did not address the killing of the fetus and the induction of labor in Voorhees. Brigham’s legal filings don’t, either.

Although Brigham regained his license in New Jersey in 1996, he lost it in New York State over charges of “gross negligence” stemming from two botched abortions, one started in Voorhees and completed in Flushing.

Brigham, who has never had a license in Maryland, is currently under investigation there for criminal as well as regulatory offenses.

In August, an 18-year-old New Jersey woman who was 21 weeks pregnant, suffered life-threatening injuries during an abortion that Brigham oversaw in Elkton. She had to be airlifted to a Baltimore hospital for emergency surgery to repair her uterus and bowel. She and the surgeon subsequently filed complaints against Brigham, triggering the latest actions against him, according to medical records and documents released by investigators.

Brigham has voluntarily agreed to a temporary license suspension in New Jersey while his case proceeds, just as he did in 1994.

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Michael R. Cohen, R.Ph. President, Institute for Safe Medication Practices
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