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BALTIMORE — Two doctors who Maryland authorities say botched a teenager’s abortion last year in Elkton, Md., have been indicted on murder charges and are awaiting extradition from New Jersey and Utah, where they were arrested this week.
Steven Chase Brigham, 55, of Voorhees, N.J., and Nicola Irene Riley, 46, of Salt Lake City, Utah, had been ordered to stop practicing medicine by the Maryland Board of Physicians in September 2010, a month after officials said an operation at the Elkton clinic went awry.
In that case, which police said forms the basis for most of the criminal charges filed this week, an 18-year-old woman from New Jersey suffered a ruptured uterus and other internal injuries during a procedure at the American Woman’s Services clinic on East High Street in Elkton.
The physicians board found that the woman, who was 21 weeks pregnant, had initially been treated in Voorhees, N.J., where her cervix was dilated. The woman was then told to travel, in her own car, to Elkton so doctors could complete the procedure.
After the woman suffered a ruptured uterus, state officials said Riley put the patient in Brigham’s rented Chevrolet Malibu and drove her Union Hospital in Elkton. The board said she sat in slumped in a wheelchair, nearly unconscious, outside the emergency room, while Riley argued with hospital staff, demanding their identities before treating the woman.
The woman was flown that day to Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore for more treatment. State officials said Riley then returned to his clinic in Elkton to perform another abortion. The injured woman survived.
Maryland’s abortion law, which is less restrictive than in nearby states, may explain why the procedure was initiated elsewhere and completed in Elkton. In other states, later abortions must be performed at a surgical center or hospital rather than at a doctor’s office. In New Jersey, pregnancies after 14 weeks cannot be ended at doctors’ offices.
After this case, the state Health Department proposed regulations to increase oversight of surgical abortion clinics.
Elkton police said they searched the clinic on East High Street but could not located medical records for the woman. But police said they found 35 later-term fetuses, some 20 to 35 weeks old, in a freezer. The Philadelphia Inquirer has reported that Brigham’s four New Jersey clinics cannot perform abortions after the first trimester — 14 weeks of pregnancy — because they did not meet safety standards.
Another doctor at the clinic, George Shepard Jr., 88, also had his Maryland license suspended by the Board of Physicians, but he has not been charged with a crime. ( And here NJ Case here) State authorities said Brigham ran a string of clinics in several states, including Pennsylvania and New York. His Maryland clinics were located in Elkton, Baltimore, College Park, Frederick and Cheverly.
Both doctors who have been charged have previously lost their licenses to practice medicine or run clinics in several states, including New York and Pennsylvania.
Brigham faces five counts of first-degree murder, five counts of second-degree murder and one count of conspiracy to commit murder. Riley faces one count each of first- and second-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder.
Details behind each of the murder counts was not given by Elkton police, who issued a news release on the charges but cited only the case of the 18-year-old woman who was injured. It was not immediately clear if the other murder counts related to the other fetuses that police said were found in the clinic’s freezer.