The Terminator

Trash-talking abortionist Dr. Brian Finkel has a message for pro-life zealots: "Kiss my ass."

Finkel's antipathy toward Planned Parenthood dates back many years.
"I will not interact with Planned Parenthood at all," he says. "That's unfortunate, but they're such a bunch of disingenuous miscreants, [and] I really don't want to have anything to do with their alternative-health-care universe that they run. They're taking advantage of their patients, and they're taking advantage of their tax-exempt status, and I don't want to lower my health care standards to theirs."

He took the group on in 1994, when its leaders suggested that physicians' assistants should be allowed to perform abortions. Finkel criticizes Planned Parenthood for everything from the amount of Valium it gives its abortion patients (10 milligrams by mouth compared to 15 milligrams intravenously, as Finkel does) to the group counseling it offers before patients see the doctor individually.

When his office was stormed by pro-lifers in the late 1980s, he says, and he had to go to court for protection, Planned Parenthood's then-CEO Gloria Feldt sent out a fund-raising letter.

"'Look what's going on! We have to protect women! Send all the money to Planned Parenthood!'" Finkel says in his falsetto, imitating Feldt. "But don't send any to Finkel. You know, it took me five years to pay off that injunction. Lucky for me, my law firm didn't charge me interest."

And Finkel blames Feldt for pushing through what he says was an unreasonable "bubble law" designed to protect abortion patients; the Phoenix ordinance was struck down in 1997.

"It wasn't reasonable, but Gloria 'The Red Queen' Feldt--'all rules are my rules, all roads are my roads, off with their heads' Gloria the Red Queen--just hammered it through," Finkel says.

Feldt, who now runs the Planned Parenthood Federation of America out of New York City, says the physicians' assistant idea stemmed from a serious shortage of abortion providers. She defends her Finkel-related fund-raising appeals on the basis that her group fights for the rights of the entire pro-choice movement. And she observes that Finkel joined her in testifying in favor of the "bubble law" at the time it was passed.

"I think the work that Brian Finkel does is stressful because he's under siege, he's under attack all the time, and sometimes he just takes his frustrations out on other people," Feldt says.

Finkel has no more affection for Bryan Howard, who replaced Feldt in Phoenix three years ago. Howard says the two have never met, but Finkel apparently knows a lot about him.

"Bryan Howard is not a physician," Finkel says. "He's not even a practicing heterosexual, so what interest does he have in women's reproductive health care rights, other than the fact that he's a lobbyist, and he's a fund raiser? I'm the one that does the deed, and I do 2,000-plus abortions a year."

Yet it was Howard, not Finkel, who was invited to the table at the legislature to negotiate the clinic regulation bill.

"I'm not hearing a lot of comments about the people that Brian likes," Howard says, when asked to respond to Finkel's criticism.

"I really don't know anything about how Dr. Finkel provides care," he continues. "We actually think we're [Planned Parenthood] the top-notch provider in town."

Howard says the group counseling Planned Parenthood patients receive is accompanied by individual attention and says the organization's medical director approved the 10 milligram Valium dosage.

"There's a whole concept in health care delivery about minimalism--don't give more medication than you have to," he says.

And as for Finkel's comments about his homosexuality, Howard says that in the 15 years he's been with Planned Parenthood affiliates--always as an openly gay man--Finkel is the first to raise it as an issue.

"I have had comments about my being a man," Howard says, "but if that were an issue, it would apply to Brian Finkel just as much as it would apply to me."

The tour of the "Vaginal Vault" winds up in the clinic's small recovery room. There are more Native American rugs and a cartoon with flowers over the bed, with the saying, "Don't Worry, Be Happy."

A huge antelope head is mounted on the wall to the patient's left.
"I shot that down in Mexico two years ago. I had to put him some place, I wasn't allowed to take him home. My girls"--his office staff--"don't want him anywhere where anybody can see him, so I have to hide him in here."

Um, what about the other girls, the patients? Don't they complain?
"Naaah." He laughs. "Well, if they do, I don't listen to 'em."
Finkel pauses, gazing up at the beast. "That's a ring-necked antelope. He's a beauty, too. Look at the size of that rack. . . ."

Contact Amy Silverman at 602-229-8443 or her online address: asilverman@newtimes.com

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