The state’s physician disciplinary board tonight revoked the license of Steven C. Brigham, a controversial doctor accused of skirting state rules by starting the process of late-term abortions with five women in his South Jersey office, and ordering them to drive to his Maryland clinic where the procedure was finished.
Finding several counts of gross negligence, deception and official misconduct against him, the state Board of Medical Examiners also ordered Brigham to pay $140,000 in penalties. At a future hearing, the board will decide how much of the state’s court costs he will be ordered to pay; the tab is expected to exceed $500,000.
The board suspended Brigham’s license in 2010 after the Attorney General’s Office argued he used the two-state process to evade New Jersey’s requirement that terminating pregnancies must take place in a hospital or licensed health care facility after 14 weeks. Brigham did not have hospital privileges at the time and is not an obstetrician or a gynecologist.
From his main office in Voorhees, Brigham inserted a device, Laminaria, to expand his patients’ cervixes, and administered a shot of Digoxin to cause “fetal demise.” At his instruction, his patients later drove to drive to a clinic in Elkton, Md. where the fetus would be surgically removed would by another doctor in consultation with Brigham.
Brigham was not licensed to practice medicine in Maryland, but his lawyer said he thought he was following Maryland law that allowed its doctors to consult with out-of-state physicians.
Deputy Attorney General Jeri Warhaftig called the two-state practice “a flim-flam” that took advantage of his patients’ trust and put them at risk.
George Shepherd, the lead physician at the Elkton clinic, was an 87-year-old OB/GYN who had never before performed a late-term abortion, said Warhaftig. Brigham was in charge and Shepherd was “just shoe-horned into the process…His presence was clearly not necessary.”
The case is “not about abortion rights — whether we think abortion should be legal or illegal,” she said. “It’s about the substandard care he provided.”
One of Brigham’s five patients suffered a lacerated uterus and bowel, requiring she be airlifted to Johns Hopkins Hospital for surgery.
“He dons the mask of caring practitioner but he puts his patients at risk of harm,” Warhaftig said.
Brigham’s attorney Joseph Gorrell described his client as a devoted physician who felt compelled to fill the void for late-term abortion services after George Tiller, a family doctor in Kansas, was shot to death in May 2009. Tiller had been the only physician east of Colorado willing to perform late-term abortions in the country.
After consulting with an attorney to make sure what he was going to do was legal, Brigham began in the fall of 2009 offering second- and third-trimester abortions for women, Gorrell said. He did the procedures without charge for women who had been raped or were victims of incest.
Gorrell argued the two-state procedure allowed Brigham to comply with New Jersey regulations, which require abortions after 14 weeks to be performed in a hospital or state-licensed surgery center. Although Brigham did not have hospital privileges at the time, a 1994 New Jersey court decision – also involving Brigham—had defined an abortion as the surgical procedure, and not the administration of medication. Under this interpretation, Brigham performed no abortions in New Jersey, Gorrell said.
“Dr. Brigham did what he did in good faith,” he said.
Brigham himself appealed to the board to “see me for who I am,” as someone who has “taken up the cause of women’s rights and women’s freedom.”
“This is about late-term abortions,” and the political agenda of anti-abortion activists, Brigham said. “If there are members of the board who are opposed to late-term abortions, I understand. But I ask you please to do the best you can and do not give in to hate.”
Warhaftig, the deputy attorney general, said his suggestion was “offensive.”
“Never fear — there are no forces of of hate here. What’s at work here is a lawful prosecution.”
The board’s actions go further than Administrative Law Judge Jeff Masin recommended in August after a 19-day trial in the matter. Although both the board and Masin said Brigham should lose is license, Masin said it was for practicing in Maryland unlawfully. The board, however, found the doctor had practiced without a license and commenced abortiond in his office by causing fetal demise with the medication.
Brigham operates clinics under the corporate name American Women’s Services in Elizabeth, Mount Laurel, Paramus, Phillipsburg, Toms River, Woodbridge and Voorhees.
Susan K. Livio may be reached at email@example.com.