Human Rights

Dr. Fraud

A fake abortion provider lures in desperate poor women and then keeps them hanging until it's too late.
"Jane Doe Four" is a 22-year-old single mother. Her one-year-old son suffers from severe hemophilia B and must take four injections every day and wear a helmet and knee and elbow pads whenever he is out of bed.

Jane struggles to support her son financially and keep up with the demands of his medical care. So last fall when she found out she was pregnant again, and the fetus was male, meaning it was likely to be a hemophiliac as well, she knew she had to get an abortion.

There aren't a lot of places to get an abortion in Louisiana, where Jane lives. She looked in the phonebook and found a listing in New Orleans for Causeway Center for Women. She called the number and spoke to a man with a soothing voice and reassuring manner who promised to get her in contact with a private practice physician who would perform an abortion at low-cost. He warned her to stay away from abortion clinics, saying they provide poor medical care and have multiple malpractice suits filed against them.

He promised to set up an appointment for her to have the procedure the following Saturday at 4 p.m. He said he couldn't give her the doctor's name or address for confidentiality reasons, but he would call on Friday with the details.

He never called.

Later, when she contacted him again, he said the doctor who was supposed to do the abortion had been called out of town, and he rescheduled the appointment. That appointment was broken as well. This continued for three months.

Every time Jane expressed her anxiety and sense of urgency to the man, he came up with good excuses for the rescheduling and reassured her that abortions are performed up to 30 weeks of pregnancy in New Orleans. Finally, Jane realized this man was never going to help her get an abortion. By the time she figured it out and went to another abortion provider, however, it was too late. She would have to carry the baby.

Since she had been expecting to abort, she had not gotten prenatal care or taken any other measures for the fetus's health.

"He always made me feel very comfortable and seemed understanding," she said, in her declaration in a class action lawsuit filed by the Center for Reproductive Rights against William Graham on June 7 in a Louisiana district court. "On at least one occasion I spoke to him on the phone for 45 minutes. I was very busy during that time, and did not stop and think about what seemed to be unthinkable - that this man was not being honest and was actually trying to prevent me from obtaining, rather than helping me to obtain, an abortion."

It turns out Jane was not alone. Graham, whose name Jane never knew, has allegedly done similar things to many other women. His yellow pages listing, Causeway Center for Women, is similar to a legitimate abortion provider, Causeway Medical Center, meaning women who hear about Causeway or have appointments there often end up calling him instead.

Another plaintiff in the lawsuit, 21-year-old college student and professional dancer "Jane Doe One," was actually scheduled to have an abortion at Causeway and called information the day of the procedure to check the address. She ended up in touch with Graham instead, and says he plied her with horror stories about Causeway, saying he was a former employee and describing it as dangerous and unsanitary.

"He told me that Causeway had 40 to 50 lawsuits filed against them and that they were 'a butcher shop,'" said Jane Doe One in a declaration for the lawsuit.

Graham convinced her to skip her appointment at Causeway, even though she was already late in her term because she had rescheduled several previous appointments with Causeway due to lack of funds. As with Jane Doe Four, she says Graham kept putting her off and by the time she realized what was going on it was too late to abort. Since she had gotten no prenatal care, she had a difficult pregnancy and ended up becoming suicidal. On May 1 she delivered prematurely by Cesarean section, suffering serious health problems in the process and ending up with a $6,000 medical bill which she is unable to pay.

"He caused me harm mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually," she said of Graham. "Someone chose my path for me in a way that has changed my life forever."

The lawsuit charges Graham with false advertising, fraud, trademark infringement and various forms of manipulation. It seeks monetary damages and injunctive relief to stop Graham from advertising his services and posing as a legitimate provider of medical advice. Along with Jane Doe One and Jane Doe Four, Causeway Medical Clinic, its parent company Choice Inc. of Texas, Causeway doctor James DeGuerce and a woman named Priscilla Cabrera are named as plaintiffs in the case.

Like Jane Doe Four and Jane Doe One, Cabrera couldn't believe the encouraging, comforting man she knew as "Mr. Glenn" was trying to deceive her and prevent her from exercising her legal right to have an abortion. She thought he had only her best interests in mind when he told her horror stories about other clinics and offered to find her an abortion for the low price of $125.

"He said, 'You're lucky you called me, because I'll hook you up with a private practice physician who does abortions,'" said Cabrera, a 33-year-old grad student and former kindergarten teacher who lives in Gulfport, Miss. "He said that would be better for my health because abortion clinics 'can't make it in the real world' and have tons of malpractice suits against them. He said their prices are so much higher because of their malpractice insurance. I did trust the man, he had the most reassuring, comforting voice."

Cabrera was also told to wait by the phone for a call telling her where to go for her appointment. The call never came. When she did reach Graham, she says he was full of excuses. And the scenario repeated itself again and again. "Meawnhile I was putting my life on hold, waiting by the phone, dealing with the side effects of pregnancy," she said. "I was still thinking this man was going to help. It really took a toll on my life. I was thinking about it every waking minute."

When she asked Graham about the danger of waiting too long for the procedure, she says he told her it is healthier to have the procedure later in the term, and he reassured her that abortions are done up to 30 weeks in Louisiana.

Finally she and her boyfriend got suspicious enough that they did some research on their own, and realized Graham was lying to them. Cabrera reached a legitimate abortion provider in Gulfport, and was able to get an abortion in the nick of time. In another week it would have been too late.

"When I started talking to people in a regular clinic, they knew exactly who this man was," said Cabrera. "He'd been out there doing this for a long time."

Advocates with the Center for Reproductive Rights and other reproductive rights groups note that Graham's tactics are part of a chilling and growing trend among the anti-choice movement, wherein anti-choice activists pose as legitimate counselors or doctors to persuade women not to have abortions, or in extreme cases like Graham's, to actually prevent them from having abortions. Graham did not return a call for this story.

"These groups have become increasingly bold in their attempts to take away women's rights both through tactics like this and direct legislative assaults," said David Seldin, spokesman for NARAL Pro-choice America. "We believe [schemes like Graham's] are an increasingly common tactic."

"It's a sad statement to see the extent to which anti-choice zealots will go to prevent women from exercising their right to choose," added Suzanne Novak, the attorney for the Center for Reproductive Rights, who is handling the lawsuit.

While Graham's case is more extreme than most, Novak and others note that similar tactics are common. Anti-choice groups regularly operate "crisis pregnancy centers" (CPCs) that purport to offer counseling and guidance on options including abortion. Like Graham, they often specifically list themselves as groups that do provide information and access to abortion, as opposed to "abortion alternatives." Often, the centers are staffed by volunteers with no medical training, who use scare tactics and give pseudo-medical advice to try to talk women out of getting an abortion. They are known to show gruesome videos about abortion and describe exaggerated links between abortion and breast cancer. They also talk about "post-abortion syndrome," a supposed condition which is not recognized within the medical community.

CPCs have been investigated by the attorneys general in New York and Ohio for providing false medical information and using deceptive tactics, and lawsuits in California and North Dakota have prevented them from advertising as women's health centers in those states. There are estimated to be 2,500 to 4,000 of these centers nationwide, and in the past few years they have been receiving increasing amounts of government funding in the form of contracts for abstinence-only sex education.

Novak noted that while anti-choice groups do have the right to try to convince women not to have abortions, using deceptive tactics to deprive them of that right is illegal and immoral. "No sort of climate should permit any business to falsely mislead people, harm their health, prevent them from practicing their legally protected right of choice," she said.

Jane Doe Four, who recently delivered by C-section, said that Graham's deception "completely ruined my life. I can barely afford to feed my child and myself," she said. "How will I afford to get food and clothes for this new baby? Now I am afraid I'll end up homeless. [Mr. Graham] doesn't think at all about the lives of the women he misleads. This man should be stopped from ruining other women's lives in the way he ruined mine."
Kari Lydersen, a regular contributor to AlterNet, also writes for the Washington Post and is an instructor for the Urban Youth International Journalism Program in Chicago. She can be reached at [email protected].
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