Dr. Brian Finkel is an outgoing bear of a man given to bursts of enthusiasm and outrage. Even though he has a long history of working with the press, on first meeting, he seems overeager to impress, to demonstrate that he is one of the good guys. After a while, though, it becomes clear that most everything Finkel does is a bit over the top, whether he is trying to impress anyone or not. Apparently, he can't help being slightly overbearing, in his own barrel-chested, bluff way.

It is easy to see why even people who like and agree with him wonder whether he is not, at times, his own worst enemy.

He teases female office staffers with irreverent double-entendres; they respond saucily, but then, when his back is turned, sometimes heave muffled sighs. He is 44 years old, a military veteran who occasionally leaves singing telephone messages. He has been known to sign written missives "The Big Fink." A shield-shaped placard in his office bears an acronym--NFWF--that, the doctor says with twinkling eyes, is shorthand for his personal credo: "Nobody Fucks With Finkel."

Fast-talking, hard-charging, gregarious Brian Finkel clearly enjoys his job, his life, his clients and the people who work around him in a big, if egocentric, way. He is one of those lucky people who considers his work a calling, and his calling to be the work of the angels.

Finkel also wears a 9-millimeter pistol on his hip while in the office, and carries a different side arm--a Colt .45 with green, luminescent sights--when then sun goes down. He arms himself because he knows that there are some people in 20th-century America who are affronted by cheerful, prosperous and opinionated abortion doctors.

Well, let's amend that judgment a bit. Finkel is not nearly as prosperous as he could be. And for all his outward lan, he is a lot less happy than he was just a few short months ago.

You see, Dr. Brian Finkel has spent tens of thousands of dollars and a lot of time with lawyers to free his business from what he sees as an amazing level of harassment--only to run head-on into a loophole in the American justice system. It is a loophole that threatens the right to choose across the country.

If you've paid attention to the national news lately, you know that the federal government is shocked--shocked--to discover that the antiabortion movement might actually have lawbreakers in its midst.

After years of governmental inaction, and the shooting of a few doctors, the FBI this year announced it would investigate the possibility that the abortion activists who have been killing people and blowing up buildings to save fetuses might be consulting with each other. In short order, the national press began churning out breathless investigations of circumstantial connections among a variety of unhinged antiabortion wackos.

Death and conspiracy make for good reading, but there is another trend in the abortion wars that has received less prominent press treatment, even though it may ultimately affect the abortion industry--and the right to reproductive choice--as profoundly as the shooting of doctors. The trend isn't as journalistically sexy as murder and arson.

It involves the filing of malpractice lawsuits against abortion providers.
On the national level, the trend is being aided by a Texas-based nonprofit group named Life Dynamics Inc., which provides low-cost assistance to the alleged victims of abortion malpractice and to the attorneys who file lawsuits on their behalf.

Life Dynamics walks and talks a well-reasoned line. The group's president, Mark Crutcher, acknowledges his antiabortion views; he told the Wall Street Journal he would be quite happy if all abortion clinics were to go out of business.

At the same time, Crutcher insists that the lawsuits in which his group assists are not politically motivated attempts to bankrupt abortion doctors, but legitimate efforts to help victims of real medical malpractice.

"There is no way I can go out there and talk these personal-injury attorneys into filing frivolous lawsuits against these doctors," Crutcher says. Besides, he says, there are too many legitimate malpractice lawsuits to waste time and money on marginal cases.

Of course, the people in the pro-choice camp see the situation differently. Ron Fitzsimmons, executive director of the National Coalition of Abortion Providers, says that violence still tops the list of complaints he receives from abortion providers, but malpractice lawsuits now are running a close second.

"If a doctor has harmed a patient, he should be disciplined. [But] what we're seeing is frivolous suits," Fitzsimmons says.

Malpractice lawsuits are expensive. Even if the lawsuits are shown to be unfounded, after a certain number are filed against a doctor, legal fees mount and the physician is either charged exorbitant insurance premiums or dropped by his insurer altogether. Or, pro-choice sources say, he goes into another line of work.

KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
John Mecklin