The Doctor Is Out
After a decade in the Vaginal Vault -- Dr. Brian Finkel's nickname for his medical office -- the Phoenix abortion provider is packing up his Elvis memorabilia and his stirrups, his stuffed antelope heads and his speculums, his fertility goddesses and his cases of birth control pills, and moving to a new location.
He won't say where. Masking his identity through a straw buyer, Finkel has a building under construction somewhere in the Valley because, he says, he fears pro-lifers will try to keep him out if he reveals his intentions.
Finkel's concerns are probably well-founded. He's not just any abortionist, he's the Valley's -- if not the nation's -- most flamboyant, in-your-face doctor currently performing the controversial procedure ("The Terminator," Amy Silverman, June 17, 1999). An ardent publicity hound, he delights in making outlandish comments about everyone from his pro-choice patients to pro-life clergy, winning him a fan in Howard Stern, who celebrated Finkel on his radio show last month. During the on-air interview, the pro-choice shock jock even offered to throw a parade in Finkel's honor.
That's a change for Finkel. Some people would like nothing better than to run him out of town. He's known for a long time that his current landlord wants him out, but the doctor's plans have gone awry. His new building isn't completed, and Finkel's lease is up July 31. And the landlord won't extend the lease by even a day.
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So for the foreseeable future, Finkel's practice, the Phoenix Metro Women's Center, will be homeless. Finkel says he'll practice part-time out of the Acacia Women's Center in central Phoenix.
Finkel's grateful to Acacia, but not happy he's being displaced.
"I'm going to only be able to hire my employees part-time, so they're going to put in for unemployment, and it's going to cut down on my two busiest surgery days, which are Fridays and Saturdays, because that's when the out-of-towners come in. And I imagine I'll see a significant reduction in cash flow, and since most of my bills are fixed, it's going to be a financial hardship," he says.
"But you know, if you're afraid to get your nose bloodied in this business, you have no business being in it."
Finkel performed about 1,600 abortions last year, a little less than 20 percent of the total abortions in Arizona in 1999. He estimates his business will be down 30 to 40 percent until his new building opens.
Bruce Miller, who until recently served as executive director of Arizona Right to Choose, says the impact on women's access to abortion could be significant.
"It's going to dramatically decrease the choices that women have for reproductive health care, particularly for those seeking abortions," he says.
This is not the first time an abortion provider has had trouble finding office space, Miller says.
"I'm afraid it's not an uncommon phenomenon, because property owners have seen buildings burned or bombed. They've seen physicians attacked. . . . I think that property owners are nervous about renting to physicians who perform abortions."
Earlier this month, a Canadian abortion provider was stabbed and a doctor performing a high-profile study on RU-486, the "morning-after drug," was threatened. Finkel has been candid in the past about the fact that he carries a gun -- even during surgery. For years, pro-life protestors have marched outside Finkel's office at least twice a week.
Mike Anderson, who for the past eight years has owned the building at 1701 East Indian School that currently houses the Metro Phoenix Women's Center, refused to comment for this story, other than to confirm that he has asked Finkel to vacate the premises by July 31.
But correspondence from Anderson's lawyers confirms that the landlord has been unhappy with Finkel's presence for years, and that other tenants have complained that the doctor is too vocal in his pro-choice stance and attracts too much media attention.
"We are advised by other tenants in the building that your recent statements to the press and members of the media have significantly agitated the public and caused other tenants to feel so unsafe that they are going to terminate their leases and leave the building," Anderson's attorney wrote to Finkel in 1998.
Earlier this month, Finkel's attorney received another letter from Anderson informing him another tenant of the building had signed an agreement stipulating that if Finkel was not out of the building by August 1, that tenant would be released from a lease valued at almost $200,000 -- money Anderson will try to get out of Finkel if he doesn't comply.
In any case, Anderson's lawyer wrote, the locks will be changed August 1, and he pointed out that ". . . more than four months ago, [Metro Phoenix Women's Center] were notified that they would have to be out by the end of this month. As the old saying goes, 'Lack of planning on their part does not constitute an emergency on ours.'"
Finkel counters that he's been planning a move for months but is caught in bureaucratic tangles with the city where his new building is located. He says he offered to pay full rent plus half on his current location, but Anderson refused.
"We could try to hold over, get an injunction, go before a judge. But it's not worth the trouble. People throw so many bad things at me it's not worth the trouble anymore," Finkel says.
Ultimately, he blames the Catholic Church for his woes.
"The Catholic Archdiocese has put a tremendous amount of pressure on my landlord with their twice-weekly ghoul trips to the office . . . to the point that other tenants in the building won't renew their leases unless I'm evicted."
Finkel hopes to be in his new building within a couple of months. He says the office will be windowless and full of security features, but otherwise he's guarding all details.
"I'm not telling squat -- except it's gorgeous," he says. "And it's a single tenant and I own the land, I own the building and I don't have to worry about a spineless landlord anymore. I've got my backbone since I'm my own landlord."
Late last week, Finkel lamented over the move. He's spent the last 10 years decorating his office -- where piped-in pop music plays loudly, all the time -- with Native American rugs, mementos of his years in the Philippines and the "'I Like Me' Wall" (diplomas, photographs and awards -- all Finkel), and now it's all coming down.
"I took all the pretties out," he says. "I've been ruining my dream for the past 10 days now. It just looks like an old skeleton of the Vaginal Vault. But I'm looking forward to moving into Fortress Finkel."
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