Clinic Weathers Rocky Year|
By VALERIE GLIEM
Centre Daily Times
STATE COLLEGE In Suite 210 of a nondescript, yellow-brick office building at 477 E. Beaver Ave. about 750 abortions have taken place in the last year.
Since September 1997, State College Medical Services has endured two eviction attempts, a bomb threat, a change in administrators, weekly picketing from anti-abortion groups and an owner who may have to serve jail time in New York.
But State College's only abortion clinic still stands -- at least until Wednesday. That's the deadline for the Friendly Corporation to appeal a Centre County Court decision to evict State College Medical Services. The Friendly Corp., a not-for-profit corporation, operates State College Medical Services.
The clinic has not been able to find a peaceful place in the community despite its quiet, inconspicuous presence.
"I think the clinic's place in the community is at the very bottom of the barrel," said Sue Rogacs, president of the anti-abortion Centre County Citizens Concerned for Human Life. "I think it has contributed nothing worthwhile to the community. I think our community is worse because of a clinic that kills babies in our town."
The Friendly Corporation on Thursday sent out a written statement in response to its critics.
"It is not important that the community as a whole like the fact that we are here," the statement reads. "We respect personal opinions and ask only that ours be respected as well. We are here to provide these services that are a woman's legal right in a safe and caring environment. We are not just an abortion clinic. We also provide many other gynecological services as well as STD testing and treatment."
PRAYER VIGIL TONIGHT
The citizens group will sponsor a memorial service at 7 tonight on the sidewalk in front of the clinic. The theme is "In Memory of Broken Lives" and will mark the first anniversary of the clinic's opening. Pastor Dan Nold of Calvary Baptist Church and the Rev. Anthony Petracca of Our Lady of Victory Church will coordinate the service.
State College police Chief Tom King said that although he has been given no reason to be extra cautious about a repeat of last year's bomb threat, he advises clinic workers to be careful today.
"I think they should always use caution with anything that seems unusual," King said.
Dr. Steven Chase Brigham, owner of the clinic, said, "We haven't heard any new threats, just the same old threats we always get.... It seems that we have been finally somewhat accepted."
"At least if not accepted, the protesting has diminished," Brigham said. "We're proud of the fact that we've been open for a year and have provided what we believe has been a high quality of care."
Brigham said abortions were performed on a broad cross-section of women. A clinic spokeswoman said the office has performed about 750 abortions since it first opened.
"We certainly do see college students, but we also see women from the community," Brigham said. Nationally, Brigham said a third of those receiving abortions are typically teen-agers, a third are between the ages of 20 and 25 and a third are 25 and over.
"I don't know, but I'm guessing that our numbers probably reflect that," he said.
NOW UNCOMFORTABLE WITH CLINIC
Joanne Tosti-Vasey, treasurer of Ni-Ta-Nee NOW, the local chapter of the National Organization For Women, said she is uncomfortable with the past record of some of the people at State College Medical Services. NOW supports abortion rights.
Tosti-Vasey believes there is a need for a clinic here.
"I'd like to see another provider here," she said.
Brigham has had his medical license revoked in New York and Florida and agreed never to practice medicine in Pennsylvania to end an official investigation into his work.
In November, a part-time physician at the clinic, Vikram H. Kaji, was suspended from practicing medicine in Pennsylvania due to a violation of a two-year license suspension.
He had been disciplined in New Jersey and Pennsylvania on charges of sexually abusing three patients and for indiscriminately prescribing anabolic steroids, according to court records.
The clinic fended off one attempt last year by HFL Corporation -- the owner of the building where the clinic is located -- to evict it. A second court ruling upheld HFL's efforts, though Brigham said they may appeal.
KEEPING THE ISSUE ALIVE
Petracca, assistant pastor of Our Lady of Victory Catholic Church, will be one of the prayer leaders at tonight's vigil.
"I'm personally trying to keep the issue of the clinic alive in peoples' minds so that it doesn't become just another accepted part of the community," Petracca said.
Eric Harrah, who with Brigham set up the clinic and was its first director, now apologizes "for bringing the clinic to State College. It was one of the biggest mistakes I've made in my entire life."
Since the opening, he has become a Christian and an anti-abortion advocate. "I pray every day that the clinic shuts down," Harrah said.
But he said deep in his heart he knows that if State College Medical Services is evicted and leaves State College, another clinic will open.