Operation Rescue Unveils List of “Cases to Watch” This Year

Operation Rescue heralded the new year by posting their list of “abortion cases to watch in 2011.” I was curious about what cases could hold their attention, so I clicked over to OR’s site. In typically overheated rhetoric, the group breathlessly detailed the reasons why everyone from Planned Parenthood to a former colleague of Dr. Tiller should hold the antis’ attention for the next twelve months.

Planned Parenthood made the list for a case that might never even come to trial. Last October, the Kansas Supreme Court ruled that a case against a Kansas City-area Planned Parenthood could move forward, but imposed a number of restrictions that could negatively affect the prosecution. The charges, which allege that the clinic performed illegal late-term abortions and falsified records, were filed in 2007 by now-former District Attorney Phill Kline (who is perhaps best known for his controversial anti-abortion legal crusades); current District Attorney Steve Howe now oversees the prosecution, and he has said that he needed to review the decision before deciding if the case can move ahead.

The state of Kansas popped up again on the list – in May, its State Board of Healing Arts will hold a hearing regarding Dr. Ann Kristin Neuhaus, a physician who often worked with Dr. George Tiller. From 1997-2002, Dr. Neuhaus operated an abortion clinic in Lawrence, which closed due to a lack of funds. The clinic had been a popular target for anti-abortion protesters, and Neuhaus herself had been threatened by extremists. I was unable to locate any non-anti information about the reason for the hearing, but it seems likely that it stems from a complaint that Operation Rescue’s own Cheryl Sullenger filed against Drs. Neuhaus and Tiller in 2006, alleging Neuhaus of failing to perform adequate patient interviews and obtain adequate patient histories, among other charges.

Moving further west, a California Medical Board hearing is scheduled next month in the case of Dr. Andrew Rutland. Following the death of one of his patients in 2009, a California judge ordered Rutland to stop performing abortions and delivering babies until a formal disciplinary meeting could be held. Rutland had lost his license in 2002; it was reinstated five years later, but he was on administrative probation at the time of the patient’s death. Although the death was initially ruled an accident – the patient suffered a toxic reaction to the anesthesia she was given – that was later changed to a homicide.

Two ongoing investigations on the East Coast also made the list. In May 2010, a grand jury in Philadelphia was convened in response to the case of Dr. Kermit Gosnell. The previous November, a patient of Gosnell’s died; federal agents subsequently raided both Gosnell’s clinic and home, and Gosnell’s license was suspended by the state’s Board of Medicine, which alleged that an unlicensed clinic staffer was treating patients. The state Department of Health cited the clinic for 14 counts of violating state laws.

The other investigation involves Dr. Steven Brigham. In August of last year, one of his patients was brought to a Maryland hospital following a failed abortion. The woman was treated at Johns Hopkins for a perforated uterus, and a complaint was filed against Dr. Nicola Riley, a Utah-based physician who was assisting Brigham with the patient. A subsequent raid on Brigham’s Maryland office revealed dozens of frozen fetuses stored in a clinic freezer; the state’s Board of Physicians issued Brigham, who was not licensed to practice in the state, a cease-and-desist order, and suspended Riley’s license. Brigham also had his license suspended in New Jersey, where he had a clinic (in the case in question, the abortion was initiated in New Jersey and completed in Maryland; this was apparently a common practice for him). The case is still under investigation in Maryland; Riley continues to practice in Utah.

And finally, there’s the case of Belkis Gonzalez. In 2009 Gonzalez, the co-owner of the now-defunct A Gyn Diagnostic Center in Florida, was charged with “a second-degree felony count of unlicensed practice of a health care profession resulting in serious bodily injury and a third-degree felony count of tampering with or fabricating physical evidence.” The charges stemmed from a 2006 incident where a clinic patient went into labor and delivered a baby. The patient alleges both that no physician was present and that the baby was alive but that, following the delivery, Gonzalez cut the umbilical cord and placed the baby in a plastic bag, which she then threw away. Gonzalez has said that the physician, Dr. Pierre Jean-Jacque Renelique, was present at the delivery and that the infant was not born alive. The medical examiner involved in the case could not definitively determine if the baby was alive at birth; also at question was the age of the infant. The patient has said she was 23 weeks pregnant, but a neonatal expert involved in the case estimated the gestational age at 21 ½ weeks – in other words, pre-viability. Dr. Renelique lost his license in 2009; Gonzalez’s case has not yet progressed to trial.

Clearly, there are some serious allegations on this list. But what Operation Rescue seems to have forgotten is that an individual is innocent until proven guilty, and that each case is being investigated by professionals whose job it is to determine if crimes or violations were committed. With its inflammatory prose and casual use of hateful rhetoric, Operation Rescue all but bangs a gavel and hands down judgment on their website. It also lists the contact information of some investigators and attorneys, with exhortations to readers to contact them and apply “public pressure” – apparently, Operation Rescue just can’t trust that these men and women will be able to do their jobs otherwise.

About Sarah:
Sarah's first book, Generation Roe: Inside the Future of the Pro-Choice Movement, will be out March 2013. For more information, follow her on Twitter @saraherdreich, or check out saraherdreich.com.


  1. I think the other important point, Sarah, is that even if these doctors are guilty of the charges, the overwhelming majority of abortion providers offer safe, compassionate health care to women. If ten dentists in the US had charges imposed against them for malpractice, or something else, would we see a blanket condemnation of the dental field?

  2. The increasing restrictions on abortion and threats & harassment of docs who perform abortions will surely result in more injury and death to women who seek abortion as docs won’t be as well trained, nor will they have the experience needed to perform the surgeries safely. My supposition is that OR seeks to publicize these cases so that they can continue to restrict access, threaten and harass, just at a different level.

  3. I’m glad that there seem to be a lot more programs training doctors to perform abortions these days. Or at least maybe the tide has turned back from the brink of insanity. I do wish these doctors didn’t need to be trained in guerilla warfare and evasive maneuvers as well, but if there’s any sense in this world, the tide will change with that, too.

    In a way, I’m encouraged by the new attacks on “telemedicine.” To me, it’s a sign that technology is providing the means for a decision that should always be private to actually be private. Now if we could just get to that magical nirvana where the only pregnancies are wanted pregnancies I’m sure we could find some lovely other hobbies for Operation Rescue members to take up.

  4. They are attempting to label all abortion practitioners as killers with some type of murderous agenda. Unfortunately I bet it works pretty well with their base.

  5. I had an abortion over 10 years ago. I should have been the poster child for PP. I was young married with two you children and a very sick husband. There was no way I was capable to handle another one. But Oops, it happens right? And there I was. I had both eyes open, fully aware of what I was doing. I was not harassed by either side. No one telling me inside that I was better off not being pregnant and no one outside telling me I was a whore and going to Hell. I had the most wonderful staff and the doctor talked to me and made sure this was MY decision. From where your reading I should be a well adjusted ( now) a mother of three with this little memory well in the past. Sadly its not. I have had problems with this for the past 8 years now. Depression, anger, shame, and numerous suicide attempts. It took a long time to stop hating myself for what I CHOSE to do. I still catch myself thinking about it. I have just shots of memory from it. something will trigger a memory, a smell, noise or seeing a newborn. That is the untold story of this debate. what does a woman go through AFTER the abortion. Trust me neither OR or PP care about the woman after the abortion. I can say that I am neither pro choice or pro life. Its just too raw for me. I would tell a woman who was thinking about it to know she is going to be changed by this. She would be needing help afterward and I would hold their hand through what ever choice they made. To say that this is” just a procedure”, and ” no big deal” is cruel to the countless women who suffer with out help or care. I can say this, I would not have another one, period. I could not live with myself..

    • Regan, thank you for sharing your story. I think that everyone has their own experience, as well as their own response to abortion. I think it’s important as advocates for women’s health to allow space for every point of view – and that includes admitting that some women do regret their abortions. It does more harm than good to be dishonest about that. I hope that you have a support network for yourself. Please let us know if you would like the info for some of the hotlines that are available for people to get support.

  6. Luckily I found Rachel’s Vineyard. I guess that I get mad when people who have never stepped into an abortions clinic make it sound like it is just a walk in the park. do they really think that there is laughing, high fives and ” boy we dodged that bullet.”? Well its not. you sit there alone. For security reasons they do not allow someone there with you. ( at least not in this state.) No one is talking. it is the most depressive and sad atmosphere. You just wait, wait for your ride, your prescriptions, and for the nurse to give the OK for you to leave. Trust me you want to get out of there. but no one thinks about the woman ( and yes men too) after “it”. its not something you advertise even to your closest girl friends. . I can tell you I have talked to my husband once about it, and never to any of my friends, though one did figure it out.
    This is not just about the right to choose, it is so much more. I have never met a woman who said ” its no big deal, its just a bunch of cells.” Now I have heard men say that.
    No one wants to hear from woman about what lead them to the clinic, or what happened after and how they handled it after Both sides just want to toe their respective lines and keep up the good fight. Do you think either side really cares about women or are they just collateral? While there are many women who ( in some cases) regret, others (who do not), silently suffering and do not know that there are resources out there for them . I have never met or heard anyone say that they were the same person coming out of that clinic as they were going in.

    • Hi Regan, I can only speak for myself, but for me, women are the primary focus of my activism. I care about women, and that’s why I do this work.

      Although I have never had an abortion, I can relate to some of what you have said about clinics being too impersonal. One time when I went to get my annual exam, I had to explain to four different people that I didn’t need birth control because I was a lesbian. Because I was using state funding to pay for my visit, I had to take some form of contraception home with me. It took the nurse almost 20 minutes to rustle up a bag of condoms for me. I subsequently missed my bus and had to wait outside for an hour until the next bus came along. This is after an hour-long bus ride to get there, with another hour-long ride to get home. The entire experience left me feeling very disempowered – and that was just for a pap. I hate to think how I would have felt if the visit were for something more serious.

      I do think that some clinics do a better job of providing personalized, compassionate care than others. And a big part of compassionate care is following up with patients to make sure they’re doing OK, both physically and emotionally.

      I completely agree with you that abortion is a big deal – it’s not a decision that women make on the spur of the moment, and it’s not as simple as getting your hair done, or shopping for a new pair of shoes. People who portray us in that light really have no idea what women go through when they are in this situation.

      A big part of the motivation for starting Feminists for Choice is to provide a space for everyone at the table to talk about issues related to reproductive health. We all have different experiences, and we all have different opinions. You can’t paint us all with the same brush. I hope that we are meeting our goal of providing a welcoming environment for folks to have an honest discussion.

  7. I have used Rachel’s vineyard and I can say they literally saved my life.Thank you for being so nice. I really hate most of the pro choice and pro life blogs and websites because they are just so mean.. I was afraid I would be attacked by my posting . And I am not convinced either side cares about woman. Both sides have their demons. Both sides of this debate make it sound like the choice is a no brain-er and your either stupid or immoral for choosing the other side. I just love it when men are so big into the debate. I think ‘ya like you are ever going to be in those stir-ups anytime soon!’ I just want to make sure that both sides realize that there are REAL women, real lives, real pregnancies dealing with this. . Its not just rhetoric or marches or being whatever champion you think you are for woman ( lets face it both sides say they are the champions). And neither side really wants to hear from the post abortive woman. There are no rallies featuring a post abortive woman that I have ever heard of. Why is that? the pro choice side should have theirs singing the praises of abortion and the pro-life should have one crying how horrible she is and how she is going to hell. But I have never heard of any one saying out loud that they have had an abortion and proclaiming it. either for the good or the bad. It is a taboo to talk about. post abortive woman are expected to be silent. And that is where both side fail miserably Both side put their own spin on the rhetoric before the woman. And I think that is why I cant support either side. Again thank you for being so respectful I hope I have been the same to you. I myself can not say that either side is right. But if there is ever a woman in my life who is facing this decision. I would tell her my story and hold her hand through which ever choice she made.

  8. Lifesong says:

    Regan, when you say you went through Rachel’s Vineyard, can you tell me what that involved? Was there a retreat? Can you explain how they literally saved your life?

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