N.J. abortion doctor charged with murder of fetuses in Md.

Posted: January 06, 2012

South Jersey abortion provider Steven C. Brigham was arraigned Friday morning in Elkton, Md., and charged with murdering five viable fetuses found in his secret clinic there, authorities said.

Brigham, 55, of Voorhees, was released after posting the $500,000 bond set by Cecil County Circuit Court Judge V. Michael Whalen.

The prosecution wades into uncharted legal waters, lawyers on both sides say. Maryland's fetal-homicide law, passed in 2005, had been used only in cases in which a pregnant woman carrying a viable fetus was murdered or assaulted. The law exempts women and their doctors from prosecution for voluntary legal abortions.

Brigham's Elkton lawyer, C. Thomas Brown, said, "We continue to assert that Dr. Brigham has not violated any Maryland laws."

Brigham, who has a two-decade record of regulatory and professional disciplinary actions in New York, New Jersey, California, and Florida, was not licensed to practice medicine in Maryland. Police raided his clandestine facility in August 2010 after an 18-year-old patient from South Jersey was critically injured and filed a complaint.

Investigators discovered that Brigham was lethally injecting fetuses in Voorhees, the headquarters of his five-state abortion business, and then surgically removing them in Elkton. The scheme - which cost Brigham his remaining medical license, in New Jersey - was an effort to evade that state's regulations of outpatient-surgery centers, authorities said.

While Brigham was released, a second defendant, physician Nicola Riley, remained in jail in her home state of Utah, with no timetable for an extradition hearing or transport to Maryland.

Riley, 46, had just begun working part-time for Brigham in August 2010 when she ruptured the uterus and bowel of the South Jersey woman. Riley is charged with the murder of the woman's fetus, which was 21.5 weeks old, according to medical records released by investigators.

Riley's lawyer in Baltimore, Daniel F. Goldstein, filed court papers Friday accusing Maryland police and prosecutors of keeping Riley in "Kafka-esque limbo."

"The Utah court has respected Maryland's request that she be held without bail, but without any effort by Maryland" to move her case forward.

The tactics "are a ploy to gain traction on a hot-button political issue in the media and with public opinion," Goldstein wrote in his filing.

Maryland's abortion law allows the procedure "at any time during the woman's pregnancy" to protect her health. Both the abortion law and the fetal-homicide law leave the question of when a fetus becomes "viable" - able to survive outside the womb - to the judgment of the attending physician.

While the Maryland statutes do not specify any gestational age, medical experts say viability occurs around 24 weeks of a full 38-week pregnancy, although there are reports of earlier survival.

The indictment charges Brigham with killing the South Jersey woman's fetus, as well four others in 2010 - on July 9, 13, 21, and 23.

On those dates, abortions were performed on women whose pregnancies ranged from 23 weeks to 31.4 weeks, according to medical records released by investigators.

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

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