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.
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.