Monday, October 16, 2000

Physician at center of debate

Little-known doctor developed procedure for late-term abortion

The Associated Press

        AKRON — An Ohio doctor who pioneered a late-term abortion method is at the center of a national controversy over the procedure. Yet even those who provide abortions in the state say they wouldn't recognize him on the street.

        Dr. Martin Haskell, who runs women's health clinics in Cincinnati, Akron and the Dayton suburb of Kettering, first publicized the procedure, known medically as dilation and extraction, at a 1992 National Abortion Federation conference.

        D and E, as it has become known, can be used as early as four months into a pregnancy but is often used later on. A doctor drains the skull of a fetus before it is fully delivered. Opponents refer to the procedure as partial-birth abortion.

        A lawsuit filed by Dr. Haskell resulted in U.S. District Judge Walter Rice overturning Ohio's first law banning the late-term abortion procedure in 1995.

        He is also suing to have the state's latest ban struck down. Judge Rice issued an injunction on Sept. 22 preventing the law from taking effect until a trial or action by an appeals court.

        Abortion-rights activists and providers say he keeps a low profile. “He's a doctor. He just wants to do medicine,” Dr. Haskell's attorney, Alphonse Gerhardstein, told the Akron Beacon Journal. “He doesn't want to be a politician.”

        Dr. Haskell declined to be interviewed for a Beacon Journal story, citing security concerns.

        Fewer than 1 percent of the 37,000 abortions done in Ohio last year were by D and E, according to state health records. Although it's rarely used, abortion opponents cling to it as a rallying point.

        Dr. Haskell is often targeted by anti-abortion groups. A firebomb damaged his Cincinnati clinic in 1985. In 1996, Akron's Right to Life held an exorcism at his Women's Med Center. Executive director Ed Marovich sprinkled salt and water and shouted, “Be gone, Satan.”

        A far-right group has listed his name on a “physicians to kill” list.

        A graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University, Dr. Haskell finished medical school in 1972 at the University of Alabama.

        Dr. William Stalter, head of the Montgomery County Medical So ciety, has called the D and E procedure “terrible” and “hellacious.” He says he takes exception that Dr. Haskell let his board certification in family practice lapse and never was certified for a specialty in obstetrics and gynecology.

        The Ohio State Medical Board has taken no formal action against Dr. Haskell.

        Vicki Saporta, head of the National Abortion Federation, called Dr. Haskell a “very skilled physician who delivers quality care.”

        Rep. Jerome Luebbers, a Cincinnati Democrat, says those against abortion — such as himself — will continue to try to block Dr. Haskell.

        “If we could have made it illegal all at once, we would have,” said Mr. Luebbers, who gives up his seat in December because of term limits.


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