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Dec 31 2011

Looks more like malpractice

This is worrying.

Authorities say two out-of-state doctors who traveled to Maryland to perform late-term abortions have been arrested and charged with multiple counts of murder, an unusual use of a law that allows for murder charges in the death of a viable fetus.

A grand jury indicted the two doctors after a 16-month investigation, police said.

The investigation began in August 2010 after what authorities say was a botched procedure at Brigham’s clinic in Elkton, located near the border of Maryland and Delaware. An 18-year-old woman who was 21 weeks pregnant had her uterus ruptured and her bowel injured, and rather than call 911, Brigham and Riley drove her to a nearby hospital, where both were uncooperative and Brigham refused to give his name, according to documents filed in a previous investigation by medical regulators.

A search of the clinic after the botched abortion revealed a freezer containing 35 late-term fetuses, including one believed to have been aborted at 36 weeks, the documents show.

Brigham, 55, is charged with five counts of first-degree murder, five counts of second-degree murder and one count of conspiracy. Riley, 46, faces one count each of first- and second-degree murder and one conspiracy count.

Mind you, it’s also mystifying. Why was there a freezer full of fetuses? But even with all the mystification, when abortion-providing doctors are charged with first degree murder it’s time to get worried.

The state law allows for murder or manslaughter charges to be brought against a person who intends to kill or seriously injure a fetus or who wantonly disregards the safety of a fetus. It does not apply to doctors administering lawful medical care and does not impinge on a woman’s right to terminate a pregnancy.

I don’t see how those two sentences, as they stand, can both be true…No wait, yes I do – “allows for” must mean in cases where a woman is not terminating a pregnancy; assault as opposed to abortion. Is that right?

An item to watch.

 

14 comments

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  1. 1
    San Ban

    I understand a freezer is used to store medical biowaste prior to proper disposal by incineration. Any clinic that performs out-patient surgeries have freezers full of human tissue awaiting disposal. Maybe the journalist didn’t check his facts before making the docs sound like Jeffrey Dahmer.

    And how long till the patients themselves are charged with murder and conspiracy?

  2. 2
    Ophelia Benson

    But 35 seems like a lot, given that late-term abortions are relatively rare…Although I don’t know what that means in absolute numbers, so I don’t know if 35 really is a lot or just seems like a lot. I also don’t know how long clinics store biowaste or how regularly proper incineration takes place. I don’t know much, and that’s a fact.

    But it all sounds very worrying. I could see a malpractice charge if the abortion really was botched and if they should have called 911…but first degree murder…Hold the phone.

    Thanks for alerting us to this. I meant to say that.

  3. 3
    Claire Ramsey

    This is alarming no matter how you look at it. Medical malpractice, the potential for badly organized bio-waste management, the whole “crossing state lines” thing, and the investigation leading to a first degree murder charge. What about the damage to the woman? Sounds like they messed her up pretty well too. Where are the charges for that crime?

    It’s sickening.

  4. 4
    Ing

    From how I read it the law is seemingly meant to punish someone who tries to induce a miscarriage while assaulting a woman…say an abusive boyfriend pushed her down the stairs it would be upgraded beyond simple assault.

    They seem to be deliberately misinterpreting the law in ways that make it contradictory.

  5. 5
    peicurmudgeon

    If a doctor refuses to perform an abortion on a woman to save her life, he be guilty of the murder of the woman. If he did the procedure, he would be guilty of the murder of the foetus. The very definition of Catch 22.

  6. 6
    Improbable Joe, bearer of the Official SpokesGuitar

    It seems like the part that crosses into criminal behavior is based on the fact that the doctors weren’t actually allowed by law to conduct abortions… if I’m reading it right. It looks like they are interpreting it to mean that if you’re not licenced to practice medicine, it doesn’t matter if you’ve got a medical degree or are just kicking pregnant women in the stomach.

  7. 7
    Jeff Johnson

    In one article I read it claimed that they were being charged under a Maryland law that does not allow abortion for a viable fetus. In this case the fetus was 21 weeks. The article also mentioned that 38 states have such laws. I’m blown away by this. 38 states! I don’t think the murder charges have anything to do with their licenses, but rather with the fact that this was a late term abortion.

  8. 8
    Ophelia Benson

    Except that according to the AP article, the law “does not apply to doctors administering lawful medical care and does not impinge on a woman’s right to terminate a pregnancy.” If that’s right, the murder law wouldn’t apply even to late term abortions. It would be a different law that forbids late term abortions (without treating them as first degree murder).

    If I’ve understood the article correctly, and if the reporter got things right. If if if. It’s all quite obscure at present. We must remain vigilant!

  9. 9
    Jeff Johnson

    I think the article is contradictory and confusing, because it also says:

    In Maryland, licensed physicians can perform abortions at any time before the fetus is deemed capable of surviving outside the womb, and abortions of viable fetuses are permitted to protect the life or health of the mother or if the fetus has serious genetic abnormalities. Doctors generally consider fetuses to be viable starting around 23 weeks.

    In the case of the woman who required further surgery, it seems the fetus was 21 weeks. But there are 5 counts of murder. I’m thinking they may have been charged for some of the frozen fetuses which were further along.

  10. 10
    Aimee

    I find this to be quite terrifying. Even if they were not performing abortions in an illegal clinic, even of 36 week fetuses, they should not be charged with murder of the fetuses. The damages are to the women, and performing illegal medical procedures.

    And furthermore, this is the result of chipping away at abortion rights, leaving doctors unable to hep their patients with out going through loopholes, jumping statelines and possibly fudging on fetus age because all this nonsense takes time.

    I also take issue with the way it is being reported here. “botched abortion” and the description of a freezer full of fetuses. I honestly thought this was about an unlicensed back alley clinic until I read through it twice due to the way the reporting tries to grizzly up the charges and the setting. As you say, the average reader does not know what is typical of bio-waste disposal, and probably the average law enforcement officer doesn’t either.

    No matter what, charging a doctor with murder for performing an abortion is bad bad news. Unless they killed the person getting the abortion of course. Anti-choicers are probably downright giddy with joy over this. shivers

  11. 11
    Giliell, professional cynic -Ilk-

    This sounds extremely strange to me.
    Women seeking late-term abortions usually don’t do so because they don’t want a child, but because something has gone seriously wrong.
    If those accounts are true then the fucking anti-abortion laws plus the level of threat and danger that scares doctors out of abortion services have driven women again into the hands of incompetent people who don’t really care for those women who are in desperate and extremely vulnerable situations.
    But no doubt that the anti-woman league will twist this the other way round again and use it as a premise to restrict access to abortions even further

  12. 12
    Improbable Joe, bearer of the Official SpokesGuitar

    These “doctors” are being portrayed as sort of fly-by-night scammers who probably deserve some jail time. Maybe the charges are a political ploy taking advantage of the situation. Maybe it is a prosecutor’s ploy to get a quick plea deal in place. It might get thrown out, or not.

    Whatever the case, it seems that the obvious solution is to make abortions much more easily available from as many hospitals as possible, so that there’s no need for questionable people performing the procedure.

  13. 13
    Ophelia Benson

    Yes to all that. It’s the result of chipping away at abortion rights (abortion is already unavailable in huge chunks of the country), making it ever more difficult for doctors to perform, scary as hell.

  14. 14
    Ibis3, Let's burn some bridges

    If I were 20 instead of 40, I’d seriously consider becoming a doctor who provides abortions.

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