Judge considers bid to close abortion operation

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) — A longtime abortion clinic operator and a physician are colluding to illegally operate a women’s clinic that was cited for multiple health violations last year, state regulators told a judge Monday.

Brian Hale, an attorney with the Alabama Department of Health Department, argued during a hearing that abortion executive Diane Derzis and Dr. Bruce Norman are wrongly running the clinic in downtown Birmingham despite Derzis surrendering her abortion clinic license last year because of the problems.

Hale said Derzis — who has abortion clinics in Georgia, Mississippi and Virginia — figured out a way to skirt the law by having Norman continue to operate her clinic after it got into trouble with the state.

“That’s all that is being done there,” Hale said.

But Derzis and Norman testified that the physician is running his own office in the pink brick building that was the longtime home of Derzis’ New Woman All Women Health Care, and lawyers for each argued the arrangement is legal under state law.

While phone numbers and a website connected to Derzis’ old clinic continued to direct patients to Norman’s office for months, lawyers denied there was anything underhanded about what happened.

“I’m just not seeing the collusion and the grand conspiracy the state sees,” said Howard Miles, a lawyer for Derzis.

Jefferson County Circuit Judge Joseph Boohaker said he would rule by Friday on whether to shut down the clinic.

Alabama’s four other abortion clinics will not be affected by the judge’s decision, and either side could appeal the order.

The state sued to shutter the operation because abortions are still being performed at the site more than a year after Derzis agreed to relinquish her license for violations that included some that regulators said endangered patient health.

Boohaker’s decision could hinge on whether he decides the facility is an abortion clinic under state law or a doctor’s office. Clinics are required to meet more extensive standards similar to those imposed on hospitals, while doctor’s offices do not.

While state law says a practice is a clinic if it performs at least 30 abortions during any two months of a year, Norman testified he is at the center only one day every other week and typically performs a maximum of 14 abortions a day. The state has even sent him patients, Norman said.

“I was surprised that the Health Department actually referred me a few patients,” said Norman, who said abortions are the only medical procedure he performs at the facility.

Attorneys spent much of the hearing debating whether Derzis or Norman actually runs the center.

Norman rents the building from Derzis for $2,000 a month, evidence showed, but he hasn’t always paid. A phone number and website used by Derzis’ old clinic continued directing patients to Norman for months after the shutdown, according to testimony.

Derzis, who owns Columbus Women’s Health in Columbus, Ga., leases workers from the Georgia clinic to Norman’s office, and the Georgia company has covered utility bills for the Birmingham building, evidence showed.

Norman said he now has his own phone number but he doesn’t advertise. The distinction was important because facilities can be classified as clinics if they represent themselves publicly as abortion providers.

Separately from the Alabama case, Derzis is in court trying to continue operating her clinic in Jackson, Miss., which has only one abortion clinic statewide.

Derzis said she also is tangling with the state of Virginia over her clinic in Richmond.

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