More trouble for abortion doctor, this time in Pennsylvania

Stephen Chase Brigham's company, American Women's Services, has headquarters and one of its six New Jersey clinics at 1 Alpha Ave., Voorhees.
Stephen Chase Brigham's company, American Women's Services, has headquarters and one of its six New Jersey clinics at 1 Alpha Ave., Voorhees.
Posted: July 21, 2010

Steven Chase Brigham, a physician whose medical license has been revoked, relinquished, or temporarily suspended in five states, is now facing regulatory and tax troubles that could jeopardize his chain of 15 abortion clinics.

The Pennsylvania Department of Health this month ordered Brigham to permanently shut his four clinics in the state for repeatedly employing unlicensed caregivers.

Lawyer Julia Gabis, who represents Brigham in the Pennsylvania case, contends that the order violates his constitutional rights and reflects selective enforcement against abortion providers. The department rejected those arguments.

"We intend to appeal this decision to the Commonwealth Court," Gabis said in an e-mail.

Brigham also has to deal with the IRS. In April, it placed $234,536 in liens against him for failing to pay payroll taxes from 2002 to 2006. His company, which does business as American Women's Services, has six clinics in New Jersey, including the headquarters at 1 Alpha Ave., Voorhees.

John Zen Jackson, a lawyer in Warren, N.J. who represented Brigham in a lawsuit against him by his accounting firm, did not respond to requests for comment on the liens.

Brigham, 53, has rarely given interviews about his legal scrapes, which go back as far as 1989 and have pitted him against medical boards, creditors, landlords, patients, and others. He declined to be interviewed for this article.

Brigham graduated from Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons in 1986. By 1990, when abortion became the focus of his practice, he was licensed in Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, California, Florida, and Georgia, public records show.

Pennsylvania was the first setback. In a confidential 1992 settlement, Brigham agreed to permanently give up his license amid an investigation of his practice in Wyomissing.

Despite this restriction, Brigham continued to own and expand his abortion business in the state.

In 1994, New York took his license, finding him guilty of "gross negligence" and "inexcusably bad judgment" involving two late-pregnancy abortions. The patients suffered life-threatening bleeding and required emergency hospital operations, public records show.

Brigham maintained offices in New York through 1995 but failed to file state business taxes, a misdemeanor for which he was sentenced to 120 days in jail and $8,188 in restitution, public records show.

In Florida, Brigham lost his license for not disclosing New York's action. California put him on probation and ordered extra training; instead, he let his license lapse, as he did in Georgia.

New Jersey suspended Brigham's license in 1993, citing the same botched abortions as New York, plus other charges. After three years of defending himself against an action by the state Attorney General's Office, Brigham won full reinstatement of his medical privileges.

Pennsylvania's latest disciplinary action came July 7 when Deputy Secretary of Health Robert Torres permanently banned Brigham and any corporation in which he has a controlling interest from providing abortions in the state. Torres' order cites repeated violations of the state's medical licensing rules.

American Women's Services does about 3,600 abortions a year in Pennsylvania, state records show. It has clinics in Pittsburgh, Allentown, Erie, and State College. Until last month its website also listed 11 locations in Philadelphia, Bristol Borough, King of Prussia, and Willow Grove where patients could rendezvous for "free transportation" to a clinic.

Vicki Saporta, president of the National Abortion Federation, said this week, "We applaud Pennsylvania's decision."

Her trade association, which has 400 abortion providers that meet its clinical standards, has long criticized the quality of care at Brigham's clinics.

The most recent violation cited in the July 7 order occurred in 2008, when a woman who was not a nurse worked as one in the Pittsburgh clinic, according to Health Department charges.

During hearings early last year, Brigham contended he had been duped. He testified that he did not know the applicant's name when he verified the license number she provided to his office administrator. As a result, he verified the wrong person's license.

Asked why he did not specifically check the applicant's name, he said, "It didn't dawn on me. I mean, I just, I didn't. . . . I don't know. I guess I don't have a good explanation."

In his legal pleadings, Brigham argued that even if there were a licensing violation, it was minor. Shutting him down, he contended, would be "excessive" and "drastic."

But the 2008 violation was far from minor, health officials decided, in the context of his previous lapses.

In 1997, Brigham employed an obstetrician-gynecologist who was under suspension for, among other things, sexually molesting patients.

"We contacted Dr. Brigham, and he said he wasn't aware that the license was suspended," recalled Kenneth Brody, the department's chief counsel. The department accepted that explanation and did not discipline Brigham.

In 2004, Brigham again pleaded ignorance. He said he was unaware that a physician who had done more than 1,600 abortions at American Women's Services clinics in Pennsylvania had previously retired his license and thus was not paying into the state's medical malpractice insurance fund.

That time, Brigham had to promise the department that from then on, his company would go to special lengths to verify medical credentials. He agreed that any further slip-ups would be grounds for barring him from having abortion facilities "directly or indirectly" in the state.

In issuing the shut-down order last week, Torres rejected one last legal argument that Brigham added to his pleadings early this year: He claimed the case had become moot because in January, he transferred ownership of his Pennsylvania clinics to a newly created company headed by a 70-year-old woman in Toledo, Ohio.

Permission to run abortion clinics "may not be transferred as part of a sales transaction," Torres ruled. Any transfer "would be void."

During Brigham's travails, his enterprise has continually evolved. Over the years, he has created at least 20 corporate entities - some with names such as Peaceful Corp., Goodness Inc., and Kindness Corp. - and added clinics in Virginia and Maryland.

The IRS now has a big claim against all of it.

"We have made a demand for payment of this liability, but it remains unpaid," say April IRS notices demanding $234,536 for unpaid payroll taxes. "Therefore, there is a lien in favor of the United States on all property and rights to property belonging to this taxpayer for the amount of these taxes, and additional penalties, interest, and costs that may accrue."


Contact staff writer Marie McCullough at 215-854-2720 or mmccullough@phillynews.com.

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