Investigative

Two abortion doctors charged with murder in Maryland

Drs. Steven Chase Brigham, 55, and Nicola Irene Riley, 46, have been charged with multiple counts of murder and attempted murder related to a botched 2010 abortion. Both doctors were arrested following the police department’s search and seizure of frozen fetuses and fetal parts at a secret abortion facility in Maryland.

In July 2010, the Inquirer reported that Brigham, who by that time had had his medical license “revoked, relinquished, or temporarily suspended in five states,” was in danger of losing his chain of 15 abortion clinics due to “regulatory and tax troubles.” Those “troubles” included being shut down by the Philadelphia Department of Health for “repeatedly employing unlicensed caregivers.”

A 1986 Columbia graduate, Brigham’s practice became primarily focused on abortion starting in 1990, and started running into trouble in 1992 in Pennsylvania. In 1994, he lost his license for “gross negligence” involving two late-term abortions that resulted in hemorrhaging and hospitalization for both patients.

The next several years would see Brigham spend time in jail, face tax evasion charges, and lose his license in other states.

Finally, in July 2010, Brigham was permanently banned from providing abortions in Pennsylvania for, among other things, employing an unlicensed nurse. He has exhibited a pattern of bad hiring practices; in 1997 an ob-gyn he employed was suspected of sexually molesting patients.

Over the years, Brigham has created around 20 corporate entities. The IRS, as of 2010, had claims against all of them.

In September, anti-abortion organization Operation Rescue obtained records from the State of New Jersey relating to the botched 22-week abortion performed on a woman known only as “D.B.” The investigation into the 18-year-old’s injuries, which were treated at Johns Hopkins, led to the suspension of Brigham’s license — again — and an investigation into the Elkton, MD, clinic where the abortion was committed. Brigham was not licensed to practice in Maryland. According to Operation Rescue:

The purpose of this under-the-radar office was to complete second and third trimester abortions that were illegally initiated at Brigham’s Voorhees, New Jersey, headquarters.

New Jersey law states that abortions can only be done up to 14 weeks at clinics not licensed as ambulatory surgical centers or hospitals. (N.J.A.C. § 13:35-4.2) The upper limit for any abortion in New Jersey is 18 weeks gestation.  Brigham’s clinics are not licensed as ambulatory surgical centers, but that did not stop him from beginning abortion procedures there on women as late in their pregnancies as 36 weeks, according to his own records.

According to interviews conducted by the Maryland Board of Physicians, (MDBP), with those involved in D.B.’s abortion, Brigham would, in spite of the law, see women who were beyond 14 weeks at his Voorhees, NJ clinic, where he would inject digoxin into the baby’s heart in order to initiate fetal demise, (in other words, kill the baby), then insert laminaria, thin sticks of seaweed that slowly expand to begin the cervical dilation process. He would also prescribe medications there.  The women would be told to report to the Voorhees clinic the following morning where they would be taken to another undisclosed location for the completion of their abortions.

D.B., like other women who had their abortions begun at Voorhees and completed at Elkton, joined a “caravan” of patients and workers in private cars. She was surprised to find herself arriving at Elkton when she thought her destination was Baltimore. One of the other patients in the caravan was a woman described as being in obvious pain, who was taken back for her abortion before D.B., and who according to records was aborting twins at 25 weeks gestation.

When D.B. entered the procedure room, she was to meet Dr. Nicola Riley of Salt Lake City, UT. It was her second day working for Brigham. Her first day, July 30, involved what Riley described as the “partial delivery” abortion of a fetus at 33 weeks gestation. At this time, Riley had been committing abortions for five years and was working part-time for Brigham in Maryland in anticipation of a permanent move to the area, ironically for the purpose of getting custody of her own children.

D.B. got the impression that Brigham was training Riley, and described herself as “nervous” as Riley began her anesthesia.

According to interviews, D.B.’s mother, identified as C.B., listened to her daughter “screaming and hollering” for the next two hours, and repeatedly left for a nearby hallway so she didn’t have to hear it.

Riley, after removing “an arm, a leg, and some soft tissue,” found bowel when she went to search for fetal cranium. She had “perforated  D.B.’s uterus, shoved the remains of [her] baby into her abdominal cavity, and pulled out part of her bowel through her vagina.”

There are time-line discrepancies between Riley’s account of the abortion and the matching ones told by D.B. and C.B. About two hours into the abortion according to C.B., but only 10 or 15 minutes into it according to Riley, Riley told C.B. there had been complications. D.B. had been put in a wheelchair and Riley seemed to intend to push her the two blocks to Union Hospital. C.B. demanded an ambulance, but settled on a car. Hospital records show D.B. arrived without an I.V. and unmonitored, although Riley claims she started an I.V. and monitored vital signs on the way there.

Riley told hospital staff she worked at the “secret clinic that performs second trimester abortions in town.”

Ten minutes after arriving, Brigham and Riley went back to the Elkton clinic and continued committing abortions. Meanwhile:

Union Hospital examined and evaluated D.B. and determined that the injuries she suffered were so severe that the decision was made to transport her via helicopter to Johns Hopkins Medical Center in Baltimore where she was rushed into surgery immediately upon her arrival.  There, doctors removed the remains of her partially aborted baby from her abdominal cavity, removed and repaired part of  her small intestine, and repaired a tear at the back of her uterus.

Later that day, police showed up at the Elkton clinic and asked to see Riley. When she went to find Brigham, he had fled the building.

Police raided the Elkton clinic on August 20. Riley was present, waiting for Brigham to show up with another “caravan.” She called him and told him to divert the women to Baltimore, where the late-term abortions were done.

On August 24, Brigham finally “casually” mentioned to Riley that he had been served with a search warrant for the Elkton clinic due to an “open murder investigation.” According to Operation Rescue, “In Maryland, there is no legal limit on when abortions can be done.  However, if a pre-born baby is past viability and his or her life is taken in an illegal act, murder charges can be brought.”

Thirty-five late-term fetuses, including one at 36 weeks gestation, were found in a freezer on the premises, according to ABC News. Also as a result of D.B.’s botched abortion, Brigham was ordered to stop practicing medicine in Maryland, where he was not licensed. His New Jersey license was suspended.

Brigham faces five counts of first degree murder, five counts of second degree murder, and one count of conspiracy to commit murder. Riley has been charged with one count of first degree murder, one count of second degree murder, and one count of conspiracy to commit murder.

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Kristen Walker makes people mad on the Internet and sometimes tweets.

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