Cleveland doctor deals with controversy on a daily basis

Katie Alberti

Editor’s note: This is part one in a two-day series. Pick up tomorrow’s Stater to read the rest of Dr. Brown’s story.

On Saturday mornings, Richard Brown (who asked that his name be changed for safety reasons) wakes up knowing it’s going to be a busy day. This afternoon, the doctor will see about 30 patients. The clients will vary in experience, background, appearance and age, but they are all there for the same reason: to get an abortion.

“Not what you think it is”

After a morning workout, Brown drives to Cleveland’s Preterm Clinic, located between identical red-brick houses and a bustling train station in Shaker Heights.

He parks his car in a crammed parking lot that rests below the second level of the clinic. Protesters stand on a nearby sidewalk. One of the regulars recognizes Brown and yells “Murder!” as he walks toward the door. The protesters are nothing new. Brown tunes them out and continues his walk.

He walks through a metal detector and takes the elevator to the third floor, where he enters a waiting room. There, women sit with family members and boyfriends, staring at passersby and barely letting whispers through their lips. To the left is a door, with a flyer on the front asking patients to knock before entering. On the other side, women in purple rush back and forth hectically, telling “Dr. B” where he’s needed.

In the midst of the chaos, the nurses inform Brown how many patients he’s scheduled to see for the day – 33. Usually the number of abortions will vary because his patients are unpredictable. He never knows if they will show up for their appointments or not.

During short breaks, nurses and patient advocates talk at the reception desk. They love their jobs, despite the lack of pay. They believe women have the choice to terminate pregnancies and are proud of the work they do. Last year alone, the nurses said about 4,500 to 5,000 women had abortions there.

Brown’s opinions of the clinic mirror those of his coworkers. As long as he’s healthy, he plans to work at Preterm.

But in general, he said people have preconceived ideas about his job and the patients he helps.

“The abortion world is not what you think it is,” he said. “I mean, unless most people’s idea of what goes on in an abortion clinic, and who you’re serving and what you’re doing has nothing to do with reality. I have to admit, I was (before working) as much in the dark as anybody else.”

To Brown, a normal day at work means performing about 30 abortions. To the rest of the world, it seems unbelievable. Misconceptions are a norm to people outside of his profession. Many of whom, he says, think abortion is a one-time problem for girls every now and then.

“A lot of people think that you’re mainly helping middle-class girls who’ve gotten in trouble,” he said. “We see them, and quite a few, but percentage wise, not that many. Unfortunately, you see a lot of people here who use abortion as birth control.”

It’s obvious the reasons Brown works at Preterm have run through his mind repeatedly. He spits out choppy, run-on sentences quickly, as if they are leaving his mouth faster than he can say them.

“I think a woman has a right to decide certain things,” he said in less than three seconds. “The problem is, at least in my estimation, is that they (pro-life people) can’t say, ‘Well, this women because she’s in a bad social situation, it’s OK for her to do it, but it’s not OK for this one because she just doesn’t want to have a baby right now.'”

For Brown, the issue is black and white: It’s either all right for women to have abortions or not – no exceptions.

Three to five minutes

As it nears 4 p.m., Brown begins to grow tired. After each procedure, he heads back to receptionist Katie Worley and asks how many more he has left to do for the day. Getting through all of today’s procedures was taking longer than expected.

With a look of determination and the thought of Worley saying “Five more to go, Dr. B,” he walks into one of the offices where a young woman sits in a chair facing the brown, plastic covered bed she will soon be laying on.

As Brown walks in the room, he says the same line he’s said to the other 28 women he’s already seen today.

“Hello, I’m Dr. Brown. How are you doing today?”

The door closes after the second sentence leaves his lips. Fifteen minutes later, he reappears back at the reception desk, asking Worley how many more he has left to do and what office he needs to go to next.

Abortions only take about three to five minutes. To some, he says the procedure might sound surprisingly short, but giving abortions – which are performed at Preterm before the 22nd week of pregnancy – tends to be easy and quick.

For each woman, Brown uses a dilator to expand the cervix. He then uses a suction canal to get rid of the growing fetus.

Contact news editor Katie Alberti at [email protected].