Longform

The Terminator

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.

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Amy Silverman is a two-time winner of the Arizona Press Club’s Journalist of the Year award. Her work has appeared on the radio show This American Life and in the New York Times, the Washington Post, Lenny Letter, and Brain, Child. She’s the co-curator of the live reading series Bar Flies, and a commentator for KJZZ, the NPR affiliate in Phoenix. Silverman is the author of the book My Heart Can’t Even Believe It: A Story of Science, Love, and Down Syndrome (Woodbine House 2016). Follow her on Instagram (@amysilverman), Twitter (@amysilvermanaz), and at amy-silverman.com.