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For Decades, Authorities Let Rogue Abortion Provider Harm Women, Despite Pleas From Legitimate Doctors

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Written by Sharona Coutts for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

On August 13, 2010, an 18-year-old New Jersey resident arrived in a clinic in Elkton, Maryland, to undergo a surgical abortion. She was 21-and-a-half weeks pregnant, and had driven just over an hour from a clinic in Voorhees, New Jersey, where the day before, Dr. Steven C. Brigham had initiated the procedure.

Just 15 minutes into the surgery in Maryland, the patient suffered major injuries. Her uterus was ruptured, and her bowel had been perforated and was protruding into her vagina.

Instead of immediately calling 911 for emergency assistance, her doctors—Brigham and his associate, Nicola I. Riley—waited nearly two hours, according to findings from the Maryland State Board of Physicians. They then dressed the patient, who was still sedated and slumped over, and lifted her into a wheelchair. They rolled her outside, put her in a car, and with Brigham at the wheel, took her to a nearby hospital. Her injuries were so severe that hospital staff had her airlifted to Johns Hopkins Health Center for emergency treatment.

The patient survived, and as was reported Thursday morning in the New York Times, her story now forms a key part of the evidence that is being used in an administrative proceeding brought by New Jersey's attorney general to have Brigham's medical license permanently suspended or revoked.

However, what has not yet been reported is the extent to which legitimate providers in the states where Brigham practiced went to warn state officials of the threat Brigham posed to the health of the women he served.

In numerous complaints, emails and phone calls over a period of more than two decades, legitimate abortion providers from New Jersey and neighboring states alerted authorities to Brigham's dangerous conduct, furnishing warnings they say went largely unheeded. Doctors provided copies of many of these complaints, as well as extensive logs of their calls, to RH Reality Check.

An investigation by RH Reality Check shows that New Jersey officials responsible for overseeing healthcare in that state could have prevented injuries to this and subsequent patients, had they acted on warnings about Brigham that predicted this exact scenario.

"If they had listened right in the beginning and taken appropriate action, I think these harms would have been prevented," Jen Boulanger, a clinic administrator who has spent years amassing complaints about Brigham and his associates, told RH Reality Check. "I think state agencies were afraid of raising eyebrows about abortion, but they just should have handled it like they do any other field of medicine."

A spokesman for the New Jersey attorney general's office, which has ultimate oversight of the New Jersey Board of Medical Examiners, said the office could not comment on Brigham, because of the ongoing dispute over his medical license.

Attempts to reach Brigham, as well as attorneys listed as his representatives on official documents, were unsuccessful.

Brigham has now had his medical license suspended or revoked in up to six states, but public records show that he remains at the helm of an abortion chain called American Women's Services, which is based in New Jersey, and owns or is affiliated with 15 clinics in four states. There is no requirement that the owner of a medical facility actually possess a medical license, state officials said.

The issue of abortion has once again leapt to the forefront of state and national politics. Already this year, dozens of anti-choice laws have been proposed or have passed at the state level, and a 20-week abortion ban recently passed in the U.S. House of Representatives.

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