Woman appeals to reopen Ala. abortion clinic

By Phillip Rawls/The Associated Press

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — A Birmingham woman appealed to a state hearing officer Friday to support her efforts to reopen Alabama’s oldest licensed abortion clinic and said the former operator would have no role in making medical decisions.

Kelley Rain-Water said the state Department of Public Health denied her application to reopen New Woman All Women Health Care in Birmingham because she is longtime friends with former operator Diane Derzis and rents an apartment from her.

“It’s sad in this country when you can’t operate a business because of who you know and where you live,” Rain-Water said in an interview.

Brian Hale, attorney for the health department, said that when the department forced Derzis to close the clinic, it had an agreement with her that she could lease it provided the new operator ran it independently of her. He said the department denied Rain-Water’s application because her lease lets Derzis or her company, All Women Inc., have a role in determining how much profit the new operation makes and requires that all the profit goes to Derzis’ company.

“There is no independence. Ms. Derzis retains control,” he told health department hearing officer Dorothy Norwood.

Norwood said it could take up to six week for her to make a recommendation to state Health Officer Don Williamson about whether he should uphold the department’s decision or grant Rain-Water’s application. Rain-Water said if she is unsuccessful, she expects someone else to apply to reopen the clinic.

“That clinic was the first clinic in the state of Alabama that was legal. It has historical relevance,” she said.

Rain-Water’s attorney, Jim Ward, said the health department’s denial was an effort to make it harder for women in Alabama to get abortions. “There needs to be an abortion clinic in Birmingham and this lady needs to run it,” he told the hearing officer.

Derzis still operates Mississippi’s only licensed abortion clinic, Jackson Women’s Health Organization. She is challenging a new law that requires abortion clinic doctors to have admitting privileges at local hospitals because she said the hospitals have not responded to requests for admitting privileges from the two out-of-state OB-GYNs she uses. A federal judge has temporarily blocked the law from taking effect.

Rain-Water said New Woman All Women had operated in Birmingham since the 1970s. In 1998, anti-abortion zealot Eric Rudolph set off a bomb at the clinic that killed an off-duty police officer providing security and severely wounded a clinic nurse. Rudolph pleaded guilty and is serving a life sentence.

The clinic agreed to shut down in May after being cited by the health department for violations, including two patients being given overdoses of drugs and needing to be taken to a hospital. The department’s agreement with Derzis allows a new, independent operator to lease it.

Rain-Water testified she never worked for Derzis, and that Derzis has no interest in the company that Rain-Water formed to operate the Birmingham clinic, Ochata Management. Under questioning by the health department’s attorney, she said her lease for the business does provide that Derzis’s company, All Women Inc., will get the difference between the clinic’s total revenue and expenses each month as payment for rent and that All Women has to agree about what gets counted as an expense.

Hale said that gives Derzis an active role in determining how much money she receives from Rain-Water.

The leader of a group trying to pass a state law that says life begins at conception said the health department’s attorney showed the lack of independence from Derzis. “There has been no change in Diane Derzis’ control,” said Ben DePre, state director for Parenthood USA.

Rain-Water said her efforts to reopen the clinic have been costly. She said she agreed to a request from her employer, St. Vincent’s Health Services in Birmingham, to resign as a lab director May 1 after her application for an abortion clinic license became public.

Alabama has five other licensed clinics — one each in Huntsville, Birmingham, Tuscaloosa, Montgomery and Mobile.