Abortion provider Steven Brigham charged with murder in Maryland

Steven Brigham, 55, the New Jersey-based abortion provider who has been in trouble for much of his two-decade medical career, has been charged by Maryland with murdering viable fetuses found at his secret Elkton, Md., clinic in August 2010, authorities said.

Brigham, of Voorhees, was arrested by Camden County police Wednesday and is in the county jail, police said Friday.

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Steven Brigham has faced legal problems in several states.

A codefendant, physician Nicola Riley, 46, was arrested in her hometown of Salt Lake City and is in jail there. Both are awaiting extradition hearings, police said.

Maryland is one of 38 states with a law recognizing fetuses that could have survived outside the womb as murder victims, but the 2005 statute has been used only in cases in which a pregnant woman was murdered or assaulted.

Thomas Brown, an Elkton lawyer representing Brigham, said he had not seen the charging document. He said Maryland authorities reneged on an agreement to let Brigham voluntarily surrender.

"It is my opinion that Dr. Brigham's arrest . . . was orchestrated to ensure that he remained in custody over this holiday weekend," Brown wrote in an e-mail.

Riley's lawyer, Sharon Krevor-Weisbaum of Baltimore, said, "We have not seen any paperwork. We think it's inappropriate for her to be held. . . . She's not a flight risk."

A Cecil County, Md., grand jury spent 16 months investigating the doctors. Cecil County prosecutors did not return calls seeking comment, and Elkton police offered no information beyond a brief news release.

Brigham's arrest was applauded by those on both sides of the abortion debate.

The Rev. Frank Pavone, national director of Priests for Life, based in Staten Island, N.Y., said in a news release, "These two individuals are now where they belong and should be in jail for the rest of their lives."

Elizabeth Barnes, director of the Cherry Hill Women's Center, said, "I am glad that a predator is off the street."

She added: "I hope the public understands that Steve Brigham is an anomaly and that most abortion care is of high quality."

Barnes is among numerous abortion providers who have filed complaints with regulators about Brigham and his Voorhees-based company, American Women's Services (AWS), which has clinics in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, West Virginia, and Florida.

In a June 2009 letter to New Jersey's medical licensing board, Barnes detailed her suspicions that Brigham was starting third-trimester abortions in Voorhees and finishing them in a clandestine clinic.

New Jersey regulators took no action, even though in the mid-1990s they tried to take Brigham's license for a bistate abortion scheme.

Hearing records in that case show he performed pre-surgical steps - including giving the fetus a lethal injection - in Voorhees, then removed the fetus in a New York clinic. The tactic was designed to evade New Jersey's strict safety standards for clinics performing late-term abortions, which are medically risky.

While New York suspended Brigham's medical license, citing a botched bistate abortion, New Jersey ultimately reinstated his license.

In October 2010, two months after the raid at the Elkton clinic, New Jersey regulators suspended that license - making it the fifth and last state to take away his medical privileges.

Brigham was never licensed in Maryland, but he routinely performed abortions in Elkton, as he admitted to New Jersey regulators at his October 2010 hearing. His claim that Maryland law allowed him to serve as an unlicensed "consultant" to the clinic "medical director" - an 88-year-old disabled doctor hired by Brigham - was rejected by regulators in both states.

During the Elkton raid, on Aug. 17, 2010, police found 35 late-term fetuses in a freezer, several just a few weeks shy of full term.

The search was prompted by the complaint of an 18-year-old New Jersey woman who had been critically injured four days earlier during an abortion performed by Riley. The patient had to be airlifted to a Baltimore hospital for emergency surgery.

Brigham is charged with five counts each of first- and second-degree murder, and conspiracy to commit murder.

Riley faces one first-degree count, one second-degree count, and a conspiracy charge.

Maryland's fetal-homicide law was first used in 2008, when a man was found guilty in the shooting deaths of his pregnant girlfriend and their 7-month-old fetus.

The law specifies that it does not apply to, or infringe upon, "a woman's right to terminate a pregnancy." It also does not subject a physician "to liability for fetal death that occurs in the course of administering lawful medical care."

The word lawful may be critical, since Brigham was not licensed.

Riley's lawyers say the law is being misapplied. "We don't think that there is any basis for these charges," Krevor-Weisbaum said.

With the arrest of Brigham, the Philadelphia area has two abortion providers accused of murder. West Philadelphia doctor Kermit Gosnell, 70, is now in jail on charges of murdering newborns and one patient.

In contrast to Maryland prosecutors, the Philadelphia District Attorney's Office announced charges against Gosnell and eight of his employees at a news conference. Reporters received a 260-page grand jury presentment, with evidence and fetal photos.

 


Steven Brigham Time Line

1992: Steven Brigham, a few years out of medical school, voluntarily forfeits his Pennsylvania medical license to end an investigation into his Wyomissing clinic. The landlord had successfully sued him for concealing his plans to perform abortions.

1994: New York state takes Brigham's license for botching late-term abortions, one begun in Voorhees, calling him "undertrained" with "submarginal abilities."

1995: Florida revokes Brigham's license based on New York's action.

1996: New Jersey regulators try to revoke Brigham's license for botching bi-state abortions. An administrative judge reinstates the license.

June 2009: A clinic that will not divulge an address, Grace Medical Care, begins online advertising for "abortions up to 36 weeks." Other abortion providers ask New Jersey regulators to investigate, to no avail.

April 2010: The IRS places $234,536 in liens against Brigham for failing to pay payroll taxes from 2002 to 2006.

Aug. 13, 2010: An 18-year-old New Jersey woman, critically injured during an abortion at a clinic in Elkton, Md., is airlifted to a Baltimore hospital. She subsequently files a complaint with Elkton police.

Aug. 17, 2010: Police raid Brigham's Elkton clinic, where he completed late-term abortions begun in his Voorhees clinic. Online, the business advertised as Grace Medical Care.

Oct. 14, 2010: Brigham loses his only remaining medical license when the New Jersey Board of Medical Examiners suspends it, calling Brigham "a clear and imminent danger to the public health."

March 2011: American Women's Services acquires the Pensacola, Fla., abortion clinic where Brigham worked in 1994 as a replacement for a physician murdered by an anti-abortion activist.

July 2011: The Pennsylvania Health Department bans Brigham from having an equity interest in abortion clinics because he keeps employing unlicensed caregivers. The state subsequently approves his mother as the new owner of his Allentown and Pittsburgh clinics.

Dec. 28, 2011: Brigham is arrested and charged by Maryland with multiple counts of murder. He is accused of aborting viable fetuses.


Contact staff writer Marie McCullough at 215-854-2720 or mmccullough@phillynews.com.