Step inside the "Vaginal Vault," Dr. Brian Finkel's nickname for the clinic where he performs more than 2,000 abortions a year.
Finkel's clinic, the Metro Phoenix Women's Center, feels more like a pawn shop. Elvis Presley collectible plates and Native American rugs cover the walls, fertility goddesses and a steer skull crowd the hallway. The place is wired: security cameras, auto-lock doors, alarms. John Cafferty and the Beaver Brown Band croons over the piped-in stereo system after work on a recent Wednesday.
On the dark side, oh yea-ah-yea-ah.
Finkel's wearing a blood-red dress shirt, tie and cufflinks, a beeper on one hip and a Colt .45 on the other. If you squint, he looks like Gene Hackman. He leads his visitors to the Squaw Peak Room, named for its view of the mountain and the Native American tchotchkes that compete for space with medical equipment.
"This is where I do the deed," he says, patting a three-foot high metal box the manufacturer calls the Synevac Vacuum Curettage; Finkel calls it the Super Sucker. "This is my abortion machine, where I do the Lord's work. I heal the sick with it."
Finkel presses a switch, and a Hooveresque roar drowns out Cafferty.
"From the time I start the operation, it takes three minutes. With prep, about 10 minutes."
He performs an average of eight abortions a day. Click; Cafferty is back.
"See, you use the suction device to empty the uterus, it pulls the tissue out, then you take the sharp curettage with this little thing on it, and that scrapes the lining of the uterus to make sure everything's out," Finkel says matter-of-factly, holding up a long device that looks like a pair of knitting needles.
Although he's effusive about his work, Finkel would just as soon talk about the rugs his receptionist's mother weaves. She sells them--are you interested? he asks. He's proud of his office decor. It'll be a pain to pack up and move, but his landlord wants him out. The other tenants don't like the pro-life picketers who congregate outside.
Finkel says he refuses to make his office into the morose "abortuary" he knows his opponents imagine. "I decorate it well because I have to be here five or six days a week. I don't want it to look like a dungeon, it has to look nice for me."
In the next room, Finkel shows off his ultrasound machine and other equipment. He grins, waving his arm. This is another room, he explains, "where I do the nasty, as the bad boys say. When I go to the new office, I'm going to have three procedure rooms! I can hardly wait!"
On the da-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-r-r-rk side, oh-h-h-h-h-h-h-h yea-a-a-a-h.
Brian Finkel is his own worst enemy--and that's saying a lot, considering his enemies list.
Last winter, his name showed up on a World Wide Web hit list compiled by radical pro-lifers who target abortion providers. Pro-choicers don't care for him much, either; he frequently criticizes them, especially Planned Parenthood. As an osteopathic physician, he's largely estranged from the allopathic community, and lots of docs--D.O. and M.D.--simply don't want to associate with an abortionist. Finkel can't get office space on a hospital campus.
And beyond all that, he's obnoxious. Finkel doesn't merely revel in his work. He rubs your nose in it. He's the Joe Arpaio of abortionists, and his self-promoting antics, chauvinism and gallows humor are enough to make a devout pro-choicer queasy.
Finkel's only fans, it seems, are in the media. He's become the darling of national television news producers desperate for a pro-choice sound bite and of local journalists who like to write about his gun.
Abortion rights and the people promoting them are under siege in this country. They try to stay out of sight. Doctors get shot, clinics get bombed, and, in some circles, the perpetrators are celebrated heroes. But while the rest of the pro-choice community has adopted a bunker mentality, Finkel stands alone, thumbing his nose at the opposition. Or, more accurately, flipping them off.
This isn't a story about Brian Finkel vs. the pro-lifers; it's a story about Brian Finkel vs. the world.
Finkel wears his heart on his sleeve and his news clippings on the office walls, nicely framed. He says he's simply the spokesman for the "little woman," but that claim is overwhelmed by his insatiable appetite for attention.
He's in a business that's dangerous even to the circumspect practitioner. Finkel seems to want to make himself the most inviting target.
And when he does get on camera, look out. Finkel's more likely to belittle a pro-lifer than to enlighten the debate on abortion rights.
Brian Finkel is a bull in a curretage shop, a potty-mouthed 12-year-old trapped in an almost 50-year-old body. A megalomaniac, a would-be martyr, an inspiration--to the opposition.
But at the same time, he's also a damn good doctor. He's well-trained, he assiduously counsels his patients before and after surgery, and he has a nationally accredited laboratory. He wants to be sure his patients know exactly what they're getting into, so he posts pictures of fetuses--the pictures you usually see in the hands of the anti-abortion protesters--on his Web site. The pro-lifers who have bombarded him for years with lawsuits and complaints to his licensing board haven't dented his armor, though they have managed to stress his wallet.
And only slightly dampen his spirits.
"No woman wants an abortion," Finkel is fond of saying. "But circumstances demand it, and women will do it." And if they're going to do it, he figures, why not have the best: him.
After a few glasses of wine and a lot of talk one evening, he concludes with a flourish:
"I'm the prince of the pelvis, the disciple of Elvis! The uptight, out-of-sight, feeling-all-right Dr. Brian Leslie Finkel.
"And you know what? I like myself. And that's what these other fuckers here in town don't understand. I like myself."
Brian Leslie Finkel was raised in Pasadena Hills, a tony St. Louis suburb. His father is Jewish and his mom was Irish Catholic, so they decided to raise their four kids without formal religious training.
"I grew up with a clean brain instead of a poisoned one," Finkel says.
That's the only nice thing he has to say about his parents.
"They were both alcoholics, and my father was an abusive alcoholic and beat the children on a frequent and regular basis," he says, tilting back in his office chair and fiddling with the brass knuckles he keeps on the desk. "My mother had no nurturing skills at all. She farmed me out as soon as she could. . . . They put me in the Cub Scouts, Weeblos, Boy Scouts. I was never home because I was always gone with other men's fathers."
At 17, Finkel left home for good. He won an Air Force scholarship to the University of Missouri and washed dishes in a girls' dormitory to earn pocket money. He studied to be a physician, like his father.
"I thought maybe if I was a doctor, maybe my father would like me."
Apparently the plan didn't work; Finkel says he's been estranged from his entire family for years. "My mother's dead, but I'm looking forward to being an orphan. I can't wait for that nasty son of a bitch to die, so I can go piss on his grave," he says of his father.
"I met my wife in high school, this woman over here, my wife for life," he says, gesturing to a portrait on a shelf behind his desk, "and began dating her when I was 19, in college.
"And married the first woman who was nice to me."
Finkel won another scholarship to the College of Osteopathic Medicine and Surgery in Des Moines, then it was on to an internship at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland. He decided to specialize in gynecology because, as Finkel puts it, "the only guy that was nice to me was the chief of OB/GYN."
That guy, retired Air Force Colonel George Randall, now lives in upstate New York. Finkel was "rather flamboyant," Randall recalls. But "as far as his work was concerned, he was one of the best residents we had."
In 1974, the word came down that Finkel was going to Vietnam.
"They said, 'We're going to make you a flight surgeon, Finkel, and we're going to send you to Vietnam.' Then they called up and said, 'Goddamnit, the war's over, we can't send you to Vietnam. But we're still going to make you a flight surgeon.' I said, 'Okay, where am I going to go?'"
Iceland, without your wife. Finkel refused.
Greenland, without your wife.
"I said, 'Hey guys, you don't understand, I just got married. Isn't there a place you can send me with my wife?' So they sent me to the Philippines."
With his wife. Finkel was assigned to Clark Air Force Base, and traveled all over the Pacific.
"It was an exciting place to practice medicine. I've never seen so many infectious diseases in my life. Malaria, leprosy, all sorts of bizarre shit that you only read about--and I was seeing it."
Finkel practiced general medicine, but a fellow physician, Chris "Fast Fingers" Vondippe, really turned him on to gynecology.
"He would whack on anything!" Finkel says of Vondippe, who now practices medicine in Nevada and couldn't be reached for comment. "He got bored just operating on Air Force personnel, so he started going down to the charity hospitals for the local Filipinos, and he'd take me with him. Boy, oh boy, did I see some Third World shit."
The combination of eager servicemen and cheap prostitutes--$8 a night--made unwanted pregnancies rampant. Abortion was illegal.
Finkel says the madams who operated their businesses out of local bars had their own way of dealing with pregnant prostitutes.
"They'd put them up on the bar, and then they'd stick stuff up inside their cervix so they'd get infected."
What kind of stuff?
"Stuff. Sticks, pieces of wood . . . whatever they could find, so the girls would get an infection, and then they'd expel the product of conception spontaneously. By then they could go to the hospital."
Often, the women got sick, and some died.
"I learned from a Third World country about the savagery and the horribleness of illegal abortions because I saw it. And beautiful women. And they died. They were dying. You know, Filipinos have absolutely drop-dead gorgeous chicks. We used to call them LBFM. Little Brown Fucking Machines."
The prostitutes slept around, dreaming they'd find an American who would marry them and bring them back to the States, Finkel says.
"Want to see a picture of an LBFM? I just happen to have one right here." Not waiting for an answer, he pops up and into the next room, returning with a large oil painting of a reclining nude. A very young nude.
"And for $8, that teenager is yours. And everyone else's on the base. I didn't like watching those people die."
He returns the painting to its hiding place; that's one souvenir his nurses won't let him display.
The Finkels moved on to Honolulu, where Brian completed his OB/GYN residency at Tripler Army Medical Center. It was an intense experience. Finkel recalls an episode where he delivered a stillborn baby and left it for the nurses to deal with. The hospital wasn't air conditioned and the windows were open, so by the time Finkel noticed that no one had taken care of the corpse it was covered in ants.
His worst delivery? He delivered a Korean woman's healthy baby, then left to do another. The problem came in when this "soft-butch dyke nurse," as Finkel describes her, insisted that the mother breast feed immediately.
"I deliver the baby and leave her with an intern. I said, 'Sew her up.' And Soft Butch comes in, she says, 'She's going to breast feed right now!' I said, 'I don't really want you to do that. I have six other deliveries I'm attending. I don't want you to do that--oh, fuck--do what you want.'
"Ten minutes later, I get a code blue to the delivery room. The Korean lady fell asleep and suffocated the baby when it was on her tit. Just put the kid on her tit, left the kid alone, and the kid's got this tit stuck up its mouth, and it can't breathe 'cause she fell asleep, and the kid's dead."
Yeah, Finkel's done and seen it all.
"Back in the good old days, honey, I could open a woman in less than a minute and a half," he boasts.
Finkel's supervisor at Tripler, retired Army Colonel Sam Chaney, remembers his former charge as a hard worker with a "different" personality. The two last spoke this spring when Finkel called Chaney, who now lives in San Antonio, to tell him to watch him on an upcoming edition of 20/20.
Much of Finkel's time in Hawaii was spent performing abortions.
"It was while I was working on the abortion floor that I learned that women will do whatever it takes to have an abortion," Finkel recalls.
The air-evac units came in twice a week, carrying American military personnel and family members from all over the Pacific.
"There'd be at least five or ten women a week that would leave their families in Korea or Japan or the Philippines or Okinawa, get on an airplane, cross three time zones, fly 8,000 miles or more each way just to see me and get their abortion," Finkel says.
He had no problem doing abortions, but Finkel dreamed of someday opening a practice where he could deliver babies and perform intricate, high-risk obstetrical procedures that would gain him renown in the medical community.
So after stints in Maine and Florida, Finkel left active duty in 1982 to settle in Phoenix, Arizona, with his young family and start a private practice in gynecology and obstetrics.
"This is where I keep all my toys," says Brian Finkel, twisting the dial of a safe that contains guns. The safe is in the closet off the master bathroom in his north Phoenix home, a custom-built, two-story job with that dusty pink cookie-cutter feel.
The family basset hound reclines on a nearby bath mat.
Diana, Finkel's wife, is downstairs cooking dinner.
After a few false starts, the safe door swings open, and the show begins. This guy even calls his guns "sweetheart."
"Got a Tech 9. Every gynecologist needs a Tech 9." Here's his first semi-automatic, "so I could have more rounds, 'cause they were bringing me more Christians."
There's a Smith and Wesson .40 and a few rifles, "for crowd control down at the office."
"Ya ever looked down a gun?" he asks. "C'mon, it's fun. . . . Pretend the Catholic hordes are after you."
Here's a Chinese assault rifle. "You know why I bought this one? Because I could. . . . And I also have armor-piercing bullets."
Leslie, Finkel's 17-year-old, bell-bottomed daughter, bounds up the stairs and announces she's going to the movies. They haggle over curfew, she's off, and Finkel is back to his sweethearts.
Here's the "classic girl chick gun" he bought for Diana. And here, he says, is his pride and joy: a handmade FBI sniper rifle. Finkel sets it up on the bed, points it toward the window, starts fiddling.
After a while he rises, puts the gun away and secures the metal shield that rolls down over the window, covering it completely.
"I'm not supposed to have the windows open after dark," Finkel says. "Becky doesn't like it."
Becky is Detective Becky Buckley, Phoenix Police Department, assigned to be a liaison between Finkel and the pro-lifers. After an abortion doctor was murdered last fall in New York, Finkel asked the police for some help. (Buckley declined to comment.)
He pauses to change into slippers and ruminate on his 30-weapon arsenal and his 17 years in Phoenix.
"I have to take care of myself," Finkel says. "You know, I didn't come to town to own the town, I just came because I wanted to. My last year as a medical student, my wife and I got assigned to Parker, Arizona, Indian Health Service. Nice rotation, liked Arizona, wanted to come back.
"After living in tornado alley in Missouri, living in Florida where we used to track hurricanes on grocery bags . . . when we were living in the Philippines with the typhoons, when we were living up in Maine--Caribou, Maine, is the most northernmost town in the United States. Fuck this, I'm coming down to Arizona.
"You know, I'm clean, I'm sober, I'm not doing drugs, I'm not stealing money, I'm trying to go to work. And I meet all these weirdoes that want to give me shit, all because I like doing abortions for women. I help women doing abortions, that's my job, I'm really good at it. I've learned from the best, and I've seen the worst. And I keep running across these people who abuse their position of trust and under the call of authority try to ruin my life."
Downstairs in the living room, Finkel cracks open a beer and offers the dog a carrot. He explains that when he first came to town he opened an office, got privileges at a number of local hospitals--which wasn't easy, as a D.O.--and started building an obstetrics practice.
But Finkel had personality conflicts at Phoenix General and Good Samaritan--he calls them "Penis General" and "Good Scam"--and later with local insurance carriers who sent malpractice insurance costs for obstetricians sky high. Finkel fought to lower the rates, and finally did, but by that time he had already started performing more and more abortions.
He had discovered the demand for the service after Diana became pregnant in the mid-Eighties. Leslie, their youngest (Shawn is 21), was still nursing. They decided on an abortion, but even though abortion has been legal in the United States since 1973, none of Finkel's peers were willing to perform one.
They finally found a doctor in Mesa who snuck Diana in the back door. Diana says the procedure was horrible. No painkillers.
"He didn't even give you a local? You sure?" her husband asks. "Well, it's your vagina. You were there."
They call the aborted fetus "Ernie the Embryo," Diana says between giggles.
"These two embryos turned out nice," Finkel remarks, waving at a photo of his children.
He continues. "I'm saying to myself, 'If this is the . . . very best that my wife can access, then what's going to happen to the working Jane Doe on the street?' So I said, 'Fuck it, I'm putting an ad in the Yellow Pages, and I'll help a couple people when they come in.'
"There weren't a couple people; they were pounding on my door by the thousands!"
Not long after came the pro-lifers, or, as Finkel calls them, the "crazies in the basement."
The head "crazy," Finkel's arch-nemesis, is a Phoenix attorney named John J. Jakubczyk--"Jumping Johnny," in the Finkel vernacular.
Finkel's dealt with many pro-lifers, but Jakubczyk has been his bane, filing numerous lawsuits on behalf of women allegedly mistreated by Finkel. None of Jakubczyk's malpractice suits against Finkel have held up in court, but Finkel maintains that's not really the lawyer's goal, anyhow.
"Jakubczyk is filing the suits to make me uninsurable. He's been very successful with that," Finkel says.
Jakubczyk counters that he's only representing his clients. He says he's never won a dime for a client because often the women want to drop out of the process early.
Finkel counters that Jakubczyk has been unsuccessful because he, Finkel, is a good doctor. He has repeatedly, without success, tried to get Jakubczyk disbarred, claiming he's using his stature as an attorney to fight for a political cause.
Jakubczyk responds: "Let's put it this way. I wear one hat as a pro-life advocate. . . . When I am in my office as an attorney, giving advice and counsel to women who've been injured by an abortion, my role is as their attorney, and my passions and my concerns about the abortion issue have to take a second seat to representing the client and what is in the client's best interest."
Last month, Jakubczyk was elected president of Arizona Right to Life. He vows to continue his battle against Finkel, saying, "I hope that someday he'll realize that what he's doing is wrong, and he'll change his heart and stop killing babies."
Finkel says Jakubczyk and other pro-life activists riled up protesters to such a degree that Finkel fought for--and won--a permanent injunction that bars pro-lifers from using bullhorns or coming any closer than the sidewalk outside his office.
But the protesters still come. Finkel--who is continually admonished by the police to steer clear of the protesters--has his own way of handling them.
"I give all these guys names, 'cause that personalizes it," he says, recalling a protester from many years ago. "We had this one guy that was stalking my office with his family. I called him 'Beer Belly,' he was a fat Mexican, stuff hanging over his belt."
One day, Finkel says, "I go, 'Hey, Beer Belly, I want you to know that if your wife ever needs an abortion, I'll do one for free. Not because I'm a nice guy, but just because I want to get between her l-e-e-e-e-gs.'
"He shit his pants!"
The next time the man showed up, his ears were covered with headphones.
Years ago, Jakubczyk got hold of Finkel's confidential file at the Arizona Board of Osteopathic Examiners and began handing out shorthand descriptions of complaints that were never substantiated. It took a large law firm and thousands of dollars to stop him and keep the board's staff from doing it again.
"I have this law firm that works for me, I call them the eight gnawing Jews--Sacks Tierney--and they just . . . bit their ass for me," Finkel says.
Speaking of asses, Finkel describes one of the 30 complaints on file against him--27 dismissed, two pending, one "Letter of Concern" regarding the matter of packing heat while performing abortions. Specifically, he says, a patient was upset because, as Finkel paraphrases (in the falsetto he often uses to imitate patients), "He gently inserted his finger up my ass."
The complaint was dismissed, but the topic leads to a lively dinner table discussion.
"There's stuff up your ass," Finkel says passionately, explaining the necessity for rectal examinations. "You've gotta go for it."
The vagina is like a sock, he continues, but the rectum is a tube that goes all the way up and behind the vagina. "So the vagina stops here," he pantomimes, "but you can go up underneath the uterus, through the rectum, and feel all sorts of stuff underneath it. You can feel colon cancer, you can feel polyps. . . . Why do you think I want to get up in the stirrups next week and have some guy slam his finger up my ass?"
Diana, who recently underwent a hysterectomy, remarks, as she's clearing the table, "All my stuff is gone except my vagina. That's it."
"And a mighty nice vagina it is, too," her husband announces.
"Well, thank you very much, dear. I appreciate that."
They laugh, and Diana opens another bottle of wine.
In following Our Lord's example of love for all people, we walk and pray to save the lives of precious, innocent babies!
--Children of the Rosary literature
Jesus loves you. The rest of us think you're an asshole.
--message on a card Dr. Brian Finkel hands out to pro-life protesters
"We'd like to reach out to you," Sara Thompson calls from across the parking lot that serves the office complex housing Finkel's abortion clinic. She is prohibited by law--the permanent injunction Finkel got years ago--from coming any closer. When Thompson, who's with a group called Children of the Rosary, realizes the woman waiting outside the clinic is a newspaper reporter, not an abortion candidate, she's hesitant to hand over her pro-life literature. It's hard to come by, she explains, offering it grudgingly. "Maybe it's something you can pass on."
The pamphlets are old and yellowed, clutched in sweaty hands for hours as Thompson and a few others march up and down the sidewalk--usually every Wednesday and Saturday morning--praying aloud and waving signs with messages like "ABORTION: America's Holocaust" and pictures of fetuses.
Thompson, who appears to be in her early 50s, wears Keds and a baby blue tank top. Her hair is pulled back. She says she felt a "special calling" eight years ago to protest outside abortion clinics.
But in that eight years, she admits, she's not sure she's changed even one woman's mind.
She's not at all discouraged. "I'm doing God's work, and what happens afterward is his decision."
She says that most abortionists she's protested against ignore pro-life demonstrators. Thompson says Finkel reacts. "Usually, going in, he signals us with his finger. He shouts obscenities."
Thompson and the other members of The Children of the Rosary are peaceful today, an unseasonably cool Wednesday in early June. Finkel watches from his office window; the cops have warned him not to engage the protesters. You never know who might get violent.
And this group is capable, Finkel insists. "Children of the Rosary is usually a very virulent, malicious group of harpies for Jesus," he says later that afternoon. He starts in on Kathy Sabelko, who used to run the group in Phoenix. In the early 1990s she was a major opponent of Phoenix's "bubble law," which prohibited anti-abortion protesters from coming within eight feet of anyone entering an abortion clinic. The law has since been overturned by the courts.
Sabelko calls Finkel "Mister," saying that he's no doctor.
He calls her a "double-butt ugly mean-spirited bitch."
"It's reasonably apparent that she's physically challenged. She's just unattractive. Really, really unattractive," Finkel says. "And I don't understand why she has this hatred for women, but she's one of these really mean-spirited Catholic misogynists who doesn't like women."
This morning's protesters were different, he says. "Now you just have a bunch of Wal-Mart shoppers showing up out front. Retirees--it's obvious just looking at them they're retirees. They're on a budget, they don't have a lot of money, they have a lot of free time. And they're looking for an ego feed. 'Somebody tell me I'm important, please.' They've never been important in their lives at all. So they come down here to my office, and they prey on people."
Or pray on people, depending upon your interpretation.
A few days after Thompson's peaceful visit, a much larger batch of protesters gets rowdy, approaching patients closely and yelling. The Phoenix Police Department steps in. Finkel does, too. Forgetting his promise to avoid the protesters, he tells a few to "blow me" and "kiss my ass."
Finkel has no patience for religion.
"I believe in the eternal darkness of death," he says. "My Garden of Eden and my heaven is right here on earth.
"And I intend to live to my very best here in my environment that I have crafted for myself. I intend to live within the secular laws of my community, and I expect the people that I pay tax dollars to to protect me from these people.
"I expect ATF to keep the bombers away. I expect the FBI to keep the nationally recognized terrorists away. I expect the Phoenix Police Department to maintain the quiet enjoyment of the community so my patients can get in and out of the building without being harassed. I expect the Phoenix Fire Department to come to my office if it gets set on fire. I expect the Arizona Bar Association to protect me from miscreant members of the bar who are abusing their position of trust to extort away from my ability to practice medicine. I expect my peers to recognize that the health care I'm providing to the women they've refused to help is quality health care.
"I'd like to be left alone, just like my patients would like to be left alone. And if I don't talk to the media, nobody's gonna talk with a voice of reason and objectivity on behalf of my patients."
He's wrapped himself up in this mantle of moral superiority, but when you strip it off his shoulders you find his swastikas. He's a fascist. He's a religious zealot. . . .
Well, it's obvious that this man has a very obvious ongoing anti-social personality disorder, and I think he needs to increase his medication. . . .
The FBI needs to follow him around.
--Brian Finkel discussing his co-guest, Reverend Donald Spitz, director of Pro Life Virginia, on Cochran & Co., October 26, 1998
"I just want to be left alone," Finkel insists repeatedly. "You know, I don't see any railroad tracks coming up to Auschwitz Finkel at 1710 East Indian School, okay? I'm not forcing these people into my office. I'm just making myself available, and it's (knock knock--he bangs on the table, adopts his falsetto) 'Can I come in, please?' (knock knock) 'Can I come in tomorrow?' (knock knock) 'Can I come in today? I just got off the plane from San Diego, can I come in now?'
"'Do you have the money now?' 'Yes.' 'You can come.'"
But every time another abortion doctor gets killed, another clinic bombed, there's Finkel, on national television. He relishes the chance to perform, cherishes the memories of the interviews, retells the tales over and over again.
He digs up a copy of U.S. News and World Report, circa 1995, flips the pages, holds it up.
"Two full pages, color picture, U.S. News and World Report. That's me!"
"Did you ever see me on Cochran and Co.? I did Johnny Cochran's show, and Cochran was laughing so hard it was amazing," he says, chortling. Then there's the 1994 radio exchange with national pro-life movement leader Joseph Scheidler.
"The tape is actually fantastic. . . . It's so funny, I kick his ass up and down the street for two hours straight," he says.
And on and on it goes.
Ron Fitzsimmons, director of the National Coalition of Abortion Providers in Washington, D.C., confirms that Finkel is one of only a half-dozen abortion providers nationwide he can tap at a moment's notice to appear on television.
"The anti-abortion movement is quick to try to portray our doctors in a negative light, so they're out saying negative things, and half the time we don't have doctors responding, so it kind leaves a void there," Fitzsimmons says. "So I like the fact that Brian is not shy and [is] rather aggressive, I'd say, when it comes to the media."
Finkel explains his mediaphilia: "I'm not hard to look at. I'm articulate. And I really believe what I'm doing's right. The media kept sticking their fish eyes in my face, and I kept talking to them, and after a while I got real good at it. And then a bunch of women started calling me up and thanked me for talking to the media."
Finkel calls the pro-lifers who seek attention media whores. He doesn't think the label applies to him.
"My enemies would tell you that I'm a media whore," he says. "My enemies would tell you that I seek out publicity, and my opponents would tell you that I deserve it. . . . I think of myself as a crime victim. A crime victim while I'm taking care of disenfranchised women. Disenfranchised women who don't have lobbyists. Disenfranchised women that don't own their legislators, 'cause they're not making payments to them for their positions. And I got tired of getting pilloried in the media."
Before he began speaking out, Finkel says, there was a constant barrage against him on local talk radio.
"I just said, 'Fuck it. I'm smarter than the pro-lifers, I can form abstract thoughts. I'll talk to the media and explain to them what's going on.' You know, I don't call the media, the media calls me. . . . I'm just a world-traveled, world-trained, world-class physician who speaks up for the little woman. That's all I am. And you know what? I do real good when I have no competition.
". . . I go after the big guys, honey. I don't like abusive men. I don't like abusive men who come after me and tell me that I'm worthless. I just won't take it. From anybody. Not from the ejaculator that inseminated the cow that birthed me, to any one of these dysfunctional, hate-filled religionists that I'm forced to interact with."
Diana Finkel doesn't buy her husband's shtick--at least not when it comes to the claim that he's so anti-pro-life because dad was a mean drunk.
"Truthfully--and this is not disparaging Brian--I think a lot of people try to blame their upbringing on why they are the way they are and don't take a handle on trying to change it," she says.
Don't get Diana wrong. She's been office manager at the clinic for years and stands behind her husband 100 percent, including the media appearances, even if that makes her a target of the pro-life movement, too.
She's also an adviser.
"When he first started the practice, I said, 'Treat each woman with dignity. Please. I've been there,'" Diana says. "Talk to them first with their clothes on. Give them that much courtesy."
And he's always complied, according to Diana. At the same time, she says, it was her idea to decorate the office. She says she told her husband, "'Let's bring things from home, 'cause we have such a collection of artwork and artifacts from our travels, before we finally settled in Phoenix. . . . Make it feel like home, don't make it feel like you're coming into a mill.'"
Yet Diana still isn't sure she "gets" her husband.
"I'm a psychology major, and I still don't understand him," she says, adding that she learns more about him, including his upbringing, all the time. "There's things--that even, being married 26 years to this man and all of the sudden, he's being open with me to tell me things--that I've never realized happened."
Diana thinks Brian is worn out, burned out, tired of the battles in the courts, the picketers at the clinic, the constant vigilance required to keep himself and his family relatively safe.
But, she predicts, he won't stop anytime soon.
"What did he say to me the other day?" she muses. "We were walking our dog and he says, 'I'm not happy unless I'm fighting.' And I said, 'Yes, that's a true statement.'"
Diana agrees that her husband doesn't get his due.
"My gynecologist who did my hysterectomy said, 'Tell Brian we're proud of him. He's taking the points.' And I said, 'Yeah, one of these days those points are going to get him shot or hurt, and then where will you be? Then your shield is gone.' I said, 'He's running front gun for you guys, and you don't even call him up and say, "Hey Brian, we saw you do this piece or that piece, we're really proud of you."'
Perhaps the quiet phone has as much to do with Finkel's personality as it does with his practice.
Brian Finkel and John Elliott are both trained gynecologists, but the similarities stop there. Finkel runs an abortion clinic. Elliott is a celebrated obstetrician--the "Quad King," Finkel calls him--with a thriving practice out of Good Sam and a reputation for handling complicated multiple births.
Elliott remembers Finkel's days at Good Samaritan.
Technically, Finkel was a good doctor, but "his personality was difficult," Elliott says.
"How he dealt with his patients was, oh, I guess I'd say unconventional. Some of the things he would say, you'd sit there and shake your head, wondering how someone would say that. . . . He would say, 'Okay, bring it on down here, honey, we've gotta get this baby out.' Nothing gross, but just sort of crude, I guess."
". . . I think he made a wise decision" to stop delivering babies, Elliott continues. "He just wasn't cut out to be doing kind of the touchy-feely OB kinds of things, and I think the service he provides certainly is a different kind of OB/GYN care."
But Elliott wants to make it clear that he's an admirer of Finkel's.
"Brian speaks his mind. He tells you what he thinks, and that's kind of unique. Very few individuals really are up front and very honest, and I'd much rather deal with someone you may or may not agree with, but at least you know how you stand on things."
On the flip side, Elliott says, "He's in your face. He'll argue with you toe-to-toe, and he doesn't back down, and he does it in a way that's not always respectful of the other person's opinion."
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.
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: email@example.com
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