By Jim Walsh
A Voorhees doctor faces multiple murder charges in connection with late-term abortions that were performed at his Elkton, Md., clinic.
Dr. Steven Chase Brigham was being held Friday in Camden County Jail, pending extradition to Maryland. He is accused of 10 counts of first- and second-degree murder and one count of conspiracy to commit murder. The unborn babies of Brigham's patients are considered to be the murder victims, according to Elkton, Md., police.
Brigham already faced legal challenges from medical regulators over his practice of starting late-term abortions for women in New Jersey and then completing the procedures after the patients had traveled to the Maryland clinic. His medical license has been suspended in New Jersey and revoked in Maryland.
Maryland authorities said they began a criminal investigation after an 18-year-old woman suffered a life-threatening injury during a procedure at the Elkton clinic on Aug. 13, 2010. A doctor who worked at the clinic — Nicola Riley, 46, of Salt Lake City — drove the patient to a local hospital. The woman later underwent emergency surgery for a perforated uterus at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore.
Investigators learned the woman had been driven from Voorhees to the American Women’s Services clinic in Elkton, where Brigham and Riley were present when she was injured. A police search of the clinic four days later found about 35 fetuses in a freezer chest, authorities said.
Authorities provided no additional information about the case on Friday.
“We are not commenting at all on the charges,” said Kerwin Miller, a deputy state’s attorney in Cecil County, Md. “I don’t want to be in the position where we create any problems. This is too serious a case.”
Miller said an indictment in the case is expected to be available to the public next week.
The indictment charges Brigham with five counts each of first- and second-degree murder and one count of conspiring to commit murder. First-degree murder is charged in cases that involve premeditation, said Miller.
Riley, the other doctor at the clinic, also faces two charges of murder and one count of conspiring to murder. She was being held in a jail in Salt Lake City.
Both doctors were arrested on Wednesday night, Maryland officials said.
New Jersey authorities suspended Brigham’s medical license in November 2010, when the state Board of Medical Examiners said in part he had “provided grossly negligent care” to five women who sought late-term abortions. The state board also alleged Brigham had performed about 50 abortions in Elkton between January and August 2010 “without holding a license to practice in Maryland.”
An attorney for Brigham could not be reached for comment.
Abortion foes welcomed the arrest of Brigham, 55, who has been a target of their criticism for decades.
“We have called for the revocation of his license for all these years,” said Marie Tasy, executive director of New Jersey Right to Life. “We’re obviously thankful, and we can only hope that Brigham will never be able to hurt, maim or kill another human being.”
At the same time, Tasy said, “We’re troubled that he continues to own and operate (abortion) clinics throughout New Jersey.”
Tasy also noted Philadelphia authorities brought murder charges against an abortion provider, Dr. Kermit B. Gosnell, and several staffers at his West Philadelphia clinic. Gosnell allegedly performed abortions beyond the 24-week legal limit in a “decrepit and unsanitary clinic” and killed babies that were born alive by plunging scissors into their spinal cords, said a grand jury report.
“I think these two cases shine a bright light on what goes on inside the abortion industry,” asserted Tasy. “I don’t think they’re that isolated.”
But Vicky Saporta, president of the National Abortion Federation in Washington, D.C., has said Brigham’s activities “are not representative of abortion care…throughout the country.”
In a September 2010 blog post that addressed an investigation into Brigham’s practices by the Maryland Board of Physicians, Saporta said Brigham “has come under fire from state licensing boards and health departments throughout his career and has had his medical license temporarily suspended, relinquished or revoked in five states.”
“These repeated disciplinary actions make it evident that Dr. Brigham operates outside recognized standards for quality abortion care,” she said.