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By Ray Stern
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By Stephen Lemons
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And that, more than the fact that he performs abortions, is what makes his peers cringe, Elliott insists.
Brian Finkel certainly made a strong first impression on Jayne McElfresh. She first encountered Finkel in the early 1990s, when he came before the Arizona Board of Osteopathic Examiners. She's a board member, and Finkel was there to defend himself against a complaint.
The board room was packed, McElfresh recalls. "And in walks this man attired in leather. Black leather pants, black leather jacket, black leather motorcycle boots. I think he even had one of those chains dangling from his hip. And in his hand he had a black helmet with a face guard. My first thought was, 'My God, who is this character?' He looked like something out of Knight Rider."
She bit on her pen to keep from laughing, certain this was a patient, not a doctor. But Finkel's case was called, and he rose to speak.
"I was dumbfounded," McElfresh says. "I listened to this man speak very passionately about what he did for a living, and the concerns he had and the pressures placed on him. But what I remembered mostly . . . was that you could tell this man cared about his patients."
McElfresh, who has served on the board for six years and is its immediate past president, says she reviewed Finkel's file after hearing of the large number of complaints against him. She won't discuss particulars, but says she believes many were fabricated by pro-lifers.
"I reviewed his file, and I made sure I knew who this person was, compared with the persona," she says, concluding, "This is a good physician who does something that a segment of society does not approve."
Finkel acknowledges that his personality gets him into trouble.
"If you look at the dynamics of my practice, you can understand why I get complaints," he says. "If you look at my personality, you can understand why I get complaints. I don't take crap from anybody. I just don't."
"A diplomat he is not," agrees Bruce Miller, executive director of Arizona Right to Choose. Miller moved to the Valley three years ago to head a pro-choice group often seen as Planned Parenthood's stepsister, so he, like Finkel, considers himself something of an outsider. The two became friends, and Miller admires Finkel's willingness to speak out, although he acknowledges that the doctor comes on strong.
"Is he wearing it out on his sleeve a little bit more than I would do? Sure. I would probably not do that," Miller says. "But Brian has a huge ego, and I don't mean that negatively, necessarily. Brian really wants people to know who he is and what he does and maybe, I think, that's his way of kind of throwing up an offensive barrier before people can throw negative crap at him."
Miller continues, "I think a part of Brian's desire for publicity is in some ways because Brian is genuinely an unrecognized hero in our community, and I don't think that Brian has gotten the accolades that I think he should get or that Brian thinks he should get."
Underneath the bravado, Miller suspects, is a marshmallow.
But Miller does worry that, in his zeal to champion women and call attention to himself, Finkel might be doing the cause some harm.
"If you were a right-wing political extremist," Miller says, "you would hate Brian, but you would love him because you could hold him up as the example of just how awful those of us who are pro-choice are."
Along with maintaining his booming practice--he performs about 20 percent of the abortions in the state--Brian Finkel is busy in court. He sued John Jakubczyk for "malicious prosecution" and "abuse of process." The latter charge made its way through the legal labyrinth, only to be tossed in April, a week before the trial, on a technicality. Finkel plans to appeal.
He's defending himself against Moishe Hakamovich, the owner of the A-Z Women's Center, where an abortion patient bled to death last summer. Hakamovich is suing Finkel over statements Finkel made about him on ABC's 20/20 earlier this year.
And then there's the abortion clinic regulation bill passed this year by the Arizona Legislature and signed into law by Governor Jane Hull (largely in response to the A-Z Women's Center fatality). Finkel derides the legislation because he says it singles out his medical specialty for extra scrutiny.
Finkel has already spoken with representatives of the Arizona Department of Health Services, who promise to allow him to participate in the rule-making process. He's nonetheless furious, and has vowed to sue the state if the results are unsatisfactory.
He says he's told his colleagues in the medical profession: "If you let these cocksuckers get away with this on me, you're next."
Finkel's not happy with the Arizona Legislature, but he reserves most of his wrath for Planned Parenthood of Central and Northern Arizona, whose representatives chose to work on the bill to make it less onerous to abortion providers, rather than fight against it. That's what Planned Parenthood of Southern Arizona and Arizona Right to Choose did.