News Abortion

Charges Filed Against Indiana Doctor Following Avalanche of Anti-Choice Complaints

Emily Crockett

A growing number of states are requiring providers to report abortions on minors as possible cases of rape or incest, even when no evidence of abuse exists—and anti-choice groups are increasingly exploiting these rules to try to discredit doctors or close clinics.

With reporting by Sofia Resnick

An Indiana abortion doctor has been charged with a misdemeanor for “failing to timely file a public report” after anti-choice activists filed numerous complaints against him.

The Lake County prosecutor’s office filed charges this month against Dr. Ulrich Klopfer for allegedly not reporting until January 2013 an abortion he performed on a 13-year-old girl in September 2012. Indiana statutory rape reporting laws require abortions performed on girls younger than 14 to be reported within three days to the state’s health and child welfare departments.

According to the prosecution’s probable cause affidavit, Lynne Scherschel of Lake County Right to Life brought the reporting issue to the attention of a detective in December.

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The South Bend Tribune reported that Klopfer was one of several Indiana doctors to delay reporting abortions on minors, and that he had done so on at least three occasions. Klopfer told the Tribune that he had made an “honest mistake” in taking too long to report two of those abortions, but disputed state records that said he had taken six months to report a third from February 2013. Klopfer said he faxed the necessary report to the department of health on the day of that procedure.

As Rewire reported in November, a growing number of states are requiring providers to report abortions on minors as possible cases of rape or incest, even when no evidence of abuse exists—and anti-choice groups are increasingly exploiting these rules to try to discredit doctors or close clinics.

Scherschel’s complaint that led to the charges against Klopfer was far from the first formal complaint filed by anti-choice activists against the doctor. Cathy Humbarger, executive director of the Allen County Right to Life, filed a complaint in September 2013 over Klopfer’s alleged reporting failures. Then, in October and December, at least 20 women, some of whom were members of Indiana Right to Life, filed a total of over 1,200 complaints against Klopfer for an alleged “1,494 errors and omissions made by Klopfer between July 1, 2011 and June 30, 2013 on terminated pregnancy reports that doctors are required by Indiana law to file for every abortion they perform.”

In an interview with Rewire this week, Klopfer claimed he has proof that Right to Life altered documents to come up with those alleged 1,494 separate errors.

While Klopfer again admitted to making “honest mistakes” in waiting too long to file reports, he said that the Right to Life groups are “basically doing a witch hunt” against him.

“They’re not the documents I sent into the state. They take a document and they fill it in their way and then send it into the state saying that I falsely reported this stuff,” Klopfer said. “Then it doesn’t match the report I have in my chart or the patient’s chart. Because we keep a copy of everything we send to the state.”

Rewire was unable to verify Klopfer’s claims because patient privacy laws prohibit him from sharing the documents. Klopfer said he plans to prove the matter to the attorney general’s office.

A patient educator at Klopfer’s South Bend, Indiana clinic who asked not to be identified told Rewire that many of the “errors” cited by Right to Life were in fact statistical information unrelated to the patient’s health or safety. For instance, if a patient did not wish to disclose her ethnicity, and that line was left blank on the form, Right to Life would consider it an error. Moreover, she said, “Some of the numbers don’t match up. I’m not going to give specifics, but they’re saying there’s so many documents, and we don’t necessarily have that many patients, so I’m not really sure where all those documents are coming from.”

Indiana Right to Life did not respond to requests for comment before publication time. A spokesman for Indiana’s department of health, which maintains terminated pregnancy reports, said the department redacts all documents to comply with privacy laws, prior to releasing them to the public. 

In the wake of sustained negative attention from anti-choice activists, Klopfer has had to take a “hiatus” from performing abortions at his Fort Wayne clinic, leaving the city without an abortion provider for the time being. Dr. Geoffrey Cly, who had partnered with Klopfer so Klopfer could comply with county admitting privileges laws, terminated that arrangement effective January 1. According to the Fort Wayne News-Sentinel, Cly “agreed to serve as Klopfer’s backup in 2010 in order to protect the health of women receiving abortions from Klopfer, since he practices in Fort Wayne only one day each week.”

(Under county law, physicians must partner with a local doctor if they are working in a county in which they do not reside, and must have admitting privileges at an area hospital or an agreement with a local doctor who has said privileges with an area facility.)

Cly, who is anti-choice, said he ended the arrangement because of the reporting failure allegations against Klopfer, as well as comments he made to Rewire in November about advising minors to have abortions in nearby states with less stringent reporting requirements.

Klopfer’s Fort Wayne clinic remains open, and he still sees patients there and performs pre-abortion counseling. But patients will have to drive almost another 100 miles to his South Bend clinic to receive an abortion. “That will add to their cost and hardship,” Klopfer told the News-Sentinel.

The Indiana Medical Licensing Board referred Klopfer’s case to the attorney general for further investigation after Klopfer appeared before the board on Wednesday to address his public comments on the reporting issues. Klopfer’s medical license was renewed in October but was stipulated as being “under review.”

The Lake County prosecutor’s office declined to comment on the misdemeanor charges.

News Health Systems

Complaint: Citing Catholic Rules, Doctor Turns Away Bleeding Woman With Dislodged IUD

Amy Littlefield

“It felt heartbreaking,” said Melanie Jones. “It felt like they were telling me that I had done something wrong, that I had made a mistake and therefore they were not going to help me; that they stigmatized me, saying that I was doing something wrong, when I’m not doing anything wrong. I’m doing something that’s well within my legal rights.”

Melanie Jones arrived for her doctor’s appointment bleeding and in pain. Jones, 28, who lives in the Chicago area, had slipped in her bathroom, and suspected the fall had dislodged her copper intrauterine device (IUD).

Her doctor confirmed the IUD was dislodged and had to be removed. But the doctor said she would be unable to remove the IUD, citing Catholic restrictions followed by Mercy Hospital and Medical Center and providers within its system.

“I think my first feeling was shock,” Jones told Rewire in an interview. “I thought that eventually they were going to recognize that my health was the top priority.”

The doctor left Jones to confer with colleagues, before returning to confirm that her “hands [were] tied,” according to two complaints filed by the ACLU of Illinois. Not only could she not help her, the doctor said, but no one in Jones’ health insurance network could remove the IUD, because all of them followed similar restrictions. Mercy, like many Catholic providers, follows directives issued by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops that restrict access to an array of services, including abortion care, tubal ligations, and contraception.

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Some Catholic providers may get around the rules by purporting to prescribe hormonal contraception for acne or heavy periods, rather than for birth control, but in the case of copper IUDs, there is no such pretext available.

“She told Ms. Jones that that process [of switching networks] would take her a month, and that she should feel fortunate because sometimes switching networks takes up to six months or even a year,” the ACLU of Illinois wrote in a pair of complaints filed in late June.

Jones hadn’t even realized her health-care network was Catholic.

Mercy has about nine off-site locations in the Chicago area, including the Dearborn Station office Jones visited, said Eric Rhodes, senior vice president of administrative and professional services. It is part of Trinity Health, one of the largest Catholic health systems in the country.

The ACLU and ACLU of Michigan sued Trinity last year for its “repeated and systematic failure to provide women suffering pregnancy complications with appropriate emergency abortions as required by federal law.” The lawsuit was dismissed but the ACLU has asked for reconsideration.

In a written statement to Rewire, Mercy said, “Generally, our protocol in caring for a woman with a dislodged or troublesome IUD is to offer to remove it.”

Rhodes said Mercy was reviewing its education process on Catholic directives for physicians and residents.

“That act [of removing an IUD] in itself does not violate the directives,” Marty Folan, Mercy’s director of mission integration, told Rewire.

The number of acute care hospitals that are Catholic owned or affiliated has grown by 22 percent over the past 15 years, according to MergerWatch, with one in every six acute care hospital beds now in a Catholic owned or affiliated facility. Women in such hospitals have been turned away while miscarrying and denied tubal ligations.

“We think that people should be aware that they may face limitations on the kind of care they can receive when they go to the doctor based on religious restrictions,” said Lorie Chaiten, director of the women’s and reproductive rights project of the ACLU of Illinois, in a phone interview with Rewire. “It’s really important that the public understand that this is going on and it is going on in a widespread fashion so that people can take whatever steps they need to do to protect themselves.”

Jones left her doctor’s office, still in pain and bleeding. Her options were limited. She couldn’t afford a $1,000 trip to the emergency room, and an urgent care facility was out of the question since her Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois insurance policy would only cover treatment within her network—and she had just been told that her entire network followed Catholic restrictions.

Jones, on the advice of a friend, contacted the ACLU of Illinois. Attorneys there advised Jones to call her insurance company and demand they expedite her network change. After five hours of phone calls, Jones was able to see a doctor who removed her IUD, five days after her initial appointment and almost two weeks after she fell in the bathroom.

Before the IUD was removed, Jones suffered from cramps she compared to those she felt after the IUD was first placed, severe enough that she medicated herself to cope with the pain.

She experienced another feeling after being turned away: stigma.

“It felt heartbreaking,” Jones told Rewire. “It felt like they were telling me that I had done something wrong, that I had made a mistake and therefore they were not going to help me; that they stigmatized me, saying that I was doing something wrong, when I’m not doing anything wrong. I’m doing something that’s well within my legal rights.”

The ACLU of Illinois has filed two complaints in Jones’ case: one before the Illinois Department of Human Rights and another with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office for Civil Rights under the anti-discrimination provision of the Affordable Care Act. Chaiten said it’s clear Jones was discriminated against because of her gender.

“We don’t know what Mercy’s policies are, but I would find it hard to believe that if there were a man who was suffering complications from a vasectomy and came to the emergency room, that they would turn him away,” Chaiten said. “This the equivalent of that, right, this is a woman who had an IUD, and because they couldn’t pretend the purpose of the IUD was something other than pregnancy prevention, they told her, ‘We can’t help you.’”

News Law and Policy

Anti-Choice Group: End Clinic ‘Bubble Zones’ for Chicago Abortion Patients

Michelle D. Anderson

Chicago officials in October 2009 passed the "bubble zone" ordinance with nearly two-thirds of the city aldermen in support.

An anti-choice group has announced plans to file a lawsuit and launch a public protest over Chicago’s nearly seven-year-old “bubble zone” ordinance for patients seeking care at local abortion clinics.

The Pro-Life Action League, an anti-choice group based in Chicago, announced on its website that its lawyers at the Thomas More Society would file the lawsuit this week.

City officials in October 2009 passed the ordinance with nearly two-thirds of the city aldermen in support. The law makes it illegal to come within eight feet of someone walking toward an abortion clinic once that person is within 50 feet of the entrance, if the person did not give their consent.

Those found violating the ordinance could be fined up to $500.

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Harassment of people seeking abortion care has been well documented. A 2013 survey from the National Abortion Federation found that 92 percent of providers had a patient entering their facility express personal safety concerns.

The ordinance targets people seeking to pass a leaflet or handbill or engaging in “oral protest, education, or counseling with such other person in the public way.” The regulation bans the use of force, threat of force and physical obstruction to intentionally injure, intimidate or interfere any person entering or leaving any hospital, medical clinic or health-care facility.

The Pro-Life Action League lamented on its website that the law makes it difficult for anti-choice sidewalk counselors “to reach abortion-bound mothers.” The group suggested that lawmakers created the ordinance to create confusion and that police have repeatedly violated counselors’ First Amendment rights.

“Chicago police have been misapplying it from Day One, and it’s caused endless problems for our faithful sidewalk counselors,” the group said.

The League said it would protest and hold a press conference outside of the Planned Parenthood clinic in the city’s Old Town neighborhood.

Julie Lynn, a Planned Parenthood of Illinois spokesperson, told Rewire in an email that the health-care provider is preparing for the protest.

“We plan to have volunteer escorts at the health center to make sure all patients have safe access to the entrance,” Lynn said.

The anti-choice group has suggested that its lawsuit would be successful because of a 2014 U.S. Supreme Court decision that ruled a similar law in Massachusetts unconstitutional.

Pam Sutherland, vice president of public policy and education for Planned Parenthood of Illinois, told the Chicago Tribune back then that the health-care provider expected the city’s bubble zone to be challenged following the 2014 decision.

But in an effort to avoid legal challenges, Chicago city officials had based its bubble zone law on a Colorado law that created an eight-foot no-approach zone within 100 feet of all health-care facilities, according to the Tribune. Sidewalk counselor Leila Hill and others challenged that Colorado law, but the U.S. Supreme Court upheld it in 2000.


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