A doctor who ferried patients to Maryland for late-term abortions that he wasn't authorized to perform in New Jersey had his license suspended Wednesday by regulators who called his actions manipulative and deceptive.
Dr. Steven Brigham started late-term abortions with medication in Voorhees, N.J., and finished them in Elkton, Md., where state law is more permissive, authorities said. He has no hospital privileges in New Jersey and is not authorized to perform abortions past the 14th week of pregnancy because New Jersey does not consider him qualified to do so.
"Dr. Brigham has consistently and repetitively engaged in manipulative and deceptive behavior designed to circumvent the requirements of the board's termination of pregnancy regulation and to eviscerate the protections that those regulations seek to afford to New Jersey patients," the state Board of Medical Examiners said in its ruling after hearing nearly nine hours of testimony.
Brigham plans to appeal the board's suspension of his only remaining medical license. He said during testimony that he believed everything he did was legal.
"Why, when you had the option to perform perfectly legal abortions, you found it necessary to schlep patients to other states?" board member Paul Mendelowitz asked Brigham.
"I only did these things because I thought I had the approval of the New Jersey medical board," Brigham said.
The New Jersey attorney general's office said Brigham was "grossly negligent" in transporting the patients, who were instructed to follow him by car.
While it's common for late-term abortions to be performed over two days, documents show that Brigham didn't even tell his patients they'd be going to his clinic in Elkton, Md., about 60 miles away. He simply led a caravan of vehicles, instructing patients or their relatives to follow him, documents show.
Brigham's attorney, Joseph M. Gorrell, has said the doctor violated no laws by transporting patients.
Brigham said he didn't give patients the address to avoid tipping off abortion protesters.
The abortion business can be lucrative for the relatively few doctors who perform the procedure regularly.
But Brigham said he was trying to save patients money; he told state regulators it was more "economical" for patients to have their late-term abortions performed at his office in Maryland rather than a hospital, as would have been required in New Jersey.
Brigham was cited after a patient at a clinic he owned in Elkton was critically injured during the procedure. The patient was driven from the clinic to a nearby hospital, where she had emergency surgery to repair a ruptured uterus and small intestine.
In that case, Brigham gave the woman labor-inducing drugs and inserted a device to help dilate her cervix, but removal of the fetus was done by another doctor, documents show.
"Dr. Brigham plays fast and loose with the rules," Deputy Attorney General Jeri L. Warhaftig told the board, adding that if Brigham is allowed to keep his New Jersey license, "he will just go find another state" in which to perform abortions.
Brigham, 54, who graduated from Columbia University medical school in 1986, is the owner of American Women's Services Inc. Headquartered in Voorhees, it has 16 abortion clinics in New Jersey, Maryland, Pennsylvania and Virginia.
He has had his license suspended or revoked in some states, dating to 1992, and was found to have botched two abortions in New York. Authorities in Maryland have ordered him to stop practicing medicine.
In New Jersey, Brigham gave women drugs that caused fetal death and softened the cervix, and also inserted a device to help dilate them.
His attorney argued that administering the drugs and dilator was preparation for the procedure, not the start of it. Gorrell said the board had already ruled on that distinction in 1994, when it defined abortion as "the evacuation of the fetus and placenta."
Warhaftig argued that the prior cases dealt only with the dilating device, not the drugs, and that addition of the drugs made travel more dangerous.
Gorrell tried unsuccessfully Wednesday to have the state's complaint dismissed, saying the medical board had already ruled on two cases against Brigham in the 1990s and found that the two-state procedure was legal.
The board, however, allowed the hearing to continue, saying that there were "substantial differences" in the cases.
The board called Brigham's belief that he could legally practice in Maryland "facially unbelievable."
Marie Tasy, executive director of New Jersey Right to Life, which had complained about Brigham's practices, commended the board for suspending his license.
"We're please the board agrees that Dr. Brigham is a danger to women in New Jersey," she said. "It is our hope that his license is permanently revoked."