Reaching the End of Lebanon Road: The Pioneer of Partial-Birth Abortion Forced to Close Down Shop

A sidewalk with several pro-life messages written on it.

For Judge Jerry Metz of the Ohio Court of Common Pleas, Aug. 15, 2014, will stand out as a milestone.

The tiny courtroom was packed to its capacity of 50. Outside the building, protestors and prayer warriors gathered. It was more like a scene outside a prison where someone was being executed than a hearing about the licensure of a local ambulatory surgical facility (ASF).

But this wasn't just any ordinary doctor's office: It was one of two in Ohio owned by Dr. Martin Haskell, who pioneered and championed the gruesome procedure known as partial-birth abortion.

Over the last 32 years, more than 10,000 women have made their way into those facilities, Haskell wrote in a letter to the editor of the Cincinnati Enquirer last August. He didn't mention the 10,000 babies that would never leave them.

But for all the drama that surrounded it, the hearing was simple and straightforward: It took Metz less than an hour to hear arguments from Haskell's lawyers and the attorney general before releasing his decision.

"Lebanon Road Surgery Center does not have a written transfer agreement as required by Ohio Admin Code," he wrote in a five-page ruling, "and therefore does not comply with Ohio law regarding ASF licensure. …The evidence supports the order to revoke and to refuse to renew LRSC's license to operate."

Five days later, Haskell gave up the fight.

"The cost and energy that is required," his lawyer told reporters, "is not considered worth it."

Though Haskell still uses the Sharonville building to consult with patients, the license revocation undermines the number of pregnancies he is able to end prematurely. The facility on Lebanon Road is no longer a place where babies go to die.

But the road leading up to it was long and winding indeed.

The Road to Perdition

William Mudd Martin Haskell received his medical degree—with training in anesthesia, general surgery and family practice—in 1972 from the University of Alabama and served his residency at University Hospital in Cincinnati, Ohio. Although he classifies himself as a gynecologist, the American Board of Medical Specialties does not list him as being certified in that area. He belongs to the National Abortion Federation, but there is no record of him belonging to the American Medical Association.

Haskell practiced medicine as a general surgeon in Cincinnati before signing on with the Women's Medical Center (WMC), an abortion facility in Dayton, as a part-time physician in the mid-1970s. He bought the facility in 1986, and opened a second location in Clifton around 1990. In 2010, he moved that practice to Sharonville, operating under the business name of the Lebanon Road Surgical Center. The only services offered at either facility are birth control and abortion.

An otherwise unremarkable physician, Haskell achieved instant notoriety as the pioneer and principle advocate of one of history's most heinous medical techniques—Intact Dilation and Extraction (IDX), better known as partial-birth abortion. Though he falsely claims to have invented it—the late California abortionist James McMahon actually came up with the idea—Haskell is the one who made it his calling card, performing possibly a thousand of them over a 15-year period.

At the 1992 National Abortion Federation Risk Management Seminar, Haskell detailed the gruesome procedure: The process begins with a two-day outpatient pre-surgical prep, in which hydroscopic dilators are placed in the mother's cervix to soften and widen it. On the third day, the mother returns to the facility, where her cervix is anesthetized. She is given oxytocin to increase the frequency, duration and intensity of her uterine contractions. The amniotic sac is ruptured. Then the real horror begins.

Using an ultrasound machine to locate the baby, the abortionist inserts forceps into the uterus, grasps a leg and pulls the baby's body backward into the birth canal, leaving its head lodged in the uterus.

Then the abortionist stabs the baby in the back of the neck with a pair of scissors. He severs its spinal cord. He inserts a suction tube into its head to suck out the brains, then delivers the corpse vaginally.

Brenda Pratt Shafer, a registered nurse from a temp agency who watched Haskell perform three partial-birth abortions, told the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee in 1995 what it was like.

"The baby's little fingers were clasping and unclasping, and his little feet were kicking," she recalled. "Then the doctor stuck the scissors in the back of [the baby's] head, and the baby's arms jerked out, like a startle reaction, like a flinch, like a baby does when he thinks he is going to fall."

After using the suction to pull out the baby's brains, Haskell cut the umbilical cord, delivered the placenta, and then threw everything—the placenta, the instruments he had just used and the baby—into a bucket.

In a January 2003 interview with American Medical News, in which he claimed to have performed 700 partial-birth abortions, Haskell said he isn't an expert on fetal pain, "but my understanding is that the fetal development is insufficient for consciousness. It's a lot like pets … We ascribe human-like feelings to them, but they are not capable of the same self-awareness as we are. It's the same with fetuses. It's natural to project what we feel for babies to a 24-week-old fetus."

It doesn't take an "expert" to understand the inhuman nature of partial-birth abortion, and in the early 1990s, people from all walks of life rose up to protest it.

Congress passed two bills banning partial-birth abortion, first in 1995 then again in 1997, only to see them vetoed by President Bill Clinton for the lack of a loophole allowing them to be performed when the mother's health may otherwise be at risk.

In 2003, Congress presented the ban again, this time with a more precise definition of the procedure—and most importantly, testimony from the notorious late-term abortionist Leroy Carhart who said he had "never encountered a situation where a partial-birth abortion was medically necessary to preserve the health of the woman."

When President George W. Bush signed the bill into law on Nov. 5, 2003, it marked the first federal legislation concerning abortion to receive a president's signature since the  Roe v. Wade decision swept state restrictions away 30 years earlier.

It was also the first shot in a war that would go all the way up to the Supreme Court over the next four years.

Going to Court

Within an hour of the bill being signed, U.S. District Judge Richard Kopf of Nebraska issued a temporary restraining order against the law. Planned Parenthood filed a lawsuit in a federal court in San Francisco, and the National Abortion Federation did the same in New York. Hearings began on March 4, 2004, with all three cases claiming the ban lacked "necessary" exemptions for the mothers' health.

On June 1, 2004, a federal judge in California ruled against the ban. A few months later both Kopf and Judge Richard Casey of the U.S. District Court in New York also ruled against it—though Casey noted he personally found partial-birth abortion to be "gruesome," "brutal" and "barbaric."

U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft continued to fight for the federal law. On July 8, 2005, a three-judge panel of the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the Nebraska ruling; the 9th Circuit also ruled against the ban in the California case the next January.

Ashcroft then appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which heard the case on Nov. 8, 2006. On April 18, 2007, it released a 5-4 decision.

"(A) moral, medical, and ethical consensus exists that the practice of performing a partial-birth abortion … is a gruesome and inhumane procedure that is never medically necessary and should be prohibited," Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote. It "kills a fetus just inches before completion of the birth process."

Kennedy denounced abortionists for their reluctance to provide information about the procedure to women beforehand to help them make their decisions.

 "The State has an interest in ensuring so grave a choice is well informed," he wrote. "It is self-evident that a mother who comes to regret her choice to abort must struggle with grief more anguished and sorrow more profound when she learns, only after the event, what she once did not know: that she allowed a doctor to pierce the skull and vacuum the fast-developing brain of her unborn child, a child assuming the human form."

Expanding to Lebanon Road

Meanwhile, Haskell was fighting a court battle on the state level. The Ohio Legislature passed a partial-birth abortion ban in May 1999. Less than a month before the law's Aug. 18, 2000, enforcement date, Haskell filed a lawsuit claiming the law was "vague," put an "undue burden" on women and lacked a health exemption.

However, the Ohio ban actually did contain a health exemption, and in December 2003, a three-judge panel of the 6th Circuit upheld it.

But that didn't stop Haskel: He just changed tactics. Instead of using IDX, he switched to the MOLD technique (Misoprostol, Oxytocin, Laminaria, and Digoxin) invented by Kansas late-term abortionist George Tiller, who was murdered in 2009. The baby is injected with a drug that induces a massive heart attack to kill it before delivery is induced, circumventing the "partial-birth" abortion label.

It also didn't stop Haskell from expanding his practice. When he opened a new abortion facility in Sharonville in 2010, neighborhood residents were incensed.

When he found out his 31-year-old pediatrics clinic would share a driveway with Haskell's LRSC, Dr. Steve Brinn expressed his outrage in a letter to the editor of the Cincinnati Enquirer. "We are here to prevent infant diseases, and they are here to end infant lives," he wrote. "We may not have the legal right to get them to move but we will do anything in our power to vocalize our personal disgust with their mission."

Brinn may have wanted Haskell to get as far away as possible, but other members of the community intentionally drew near—including Vivian Koob. She's the founder of Elizabeth's New Life Center, a 25-year-old pregnancy resource center with six locations statewide. Three other offices offer different family services.

"As soon as we heard about Haskell opening the Lebanon Road (facility), we went down and located the building we wanted," Koob tells Citizen—directly across the street from Haskell.

"Dr. Brinn has been very helpful to the pro-lifers," she adds. "He allows them to do sidewalk counseling (on his property) and even has an ultrasound machine in his office and a counselor that is funded from another pro-life group in Cincinnati."

Holding Haskell to the Law

Every war has multiple battlefronts and, in the battle for life, one of the most significant is the legal arena.

"Unfortunately, Roe v. Wade requires abortion to be legal in all 50 states, up to the moment of viability," says Ohio Right to Life President Michael Gonidakis, "and states can't pass laws that place an undue burden on a woman's so-called 'right' to abortion.

"Our strategy has been to make sure these abortion (facilities) are held to the standard that everyone else is held to," he adds. "The Lebanon Road Surgery Center is performing a surgical procedure; whether you are pro-choice or pro-life, we can agree to that. We have laws in Ohio that say if you perform a surgical procedure in a free-standing ambulatory surgical facility—whether it is laser eye surgery or abortion—you have to have health and safety standards, and inspectors have to come and inspect your facility."

Since 2002, Ohio law has required ASFs to have both a license and a transfer agreement with a local hospital, so patients can be taken to an emergency room if they have complications. Haskell flouted that law since the beginning, claiming it didn't apply to him because his Dayton facility was a private physician's office, not an ASF.

The Ohio Department of Health disagreed, ordered him in 2000 to obtain a license and a transfer agreement for his Dayton facility. Haskell began nine years of legal maneuverings to avoid doing so, with six out of nine cases ending with a judge ruling against him. Finally, in March 2008, he got a license for the Dayton facility.

But when Haskell moved to Sharonville in 2010, that transfer agreement was canceled—and his attempts to get a new one failed.

"No hospital in the greater Cincinnati area wanted to do business with the abortion facility," Gonidakis explains. "These are major hospitals; the people there are not all pro-life. They just didn't want to do business with this man."

Ohio ASF law has a loophole: If a transfer agreement cannot be secured, the abortionist can identify two doctors at a hospital who are willing to be on call and treat any patients who have complications. Haskell wiggled through that loophole for four years, until the Ohio Department of Health investigated.

Haskell, says Gonadikis, got into trouble when he tried to change the doctors with whom he had referral agreements without first seeking permission from the health department and without telling the state who those doctors were. Worse, he said, is the fact that Haskell did so not once, but annually.

Last January, the health department rejected Haskell's variance application, revoked his ASF license, and ordered the closure of the facility on Lebanon Road.

Haskell retaliated by suing the state. In June, Magistrate Michael Bachman ruled against Haskell, and in August, Metz upheld Bachman's ruling.

Although the twin judgments hamstrung the LRSC, it was only a mixed victory for pro-life forces.

Haskell is far from going completely out of business: He uses the building on Lebanon Road to consult with patients and insert laminaria (an outpatient procedure that is the first step in the extended late-term abortion process) before sending them on to his facilities in Dayton or Indianapolis, where all kinds of abortion except partial-birth are performed through all stages of pregnancy.

"When his clinic closes completely," Koob says, "we'll have a gigantic praise event!"

Gonidakis is looking forward to that. He credits the enforcement of the health department's regulations for dramatically reducing the number of abortion facilities in Ohio since 2002—and thereby, the total number of abortions statewide.

"Over the past 18 months, almost half of the abortion clinics in Ohio have been closed," he tells Citizen. "We went from 14 to eight and (may soon) be at seven. In 2013 we were down to 25,000 abortions. That's 25,000 too many, but we are definitely on the way.

"When the number of abortions is zero, that's when we'll celebrate."

© 2015 Focus on the Family.