City’s Only Abortion Clinic Closes

Operation Rescue President Troy Newman says, “This is a Christmas present to the babies!”

By JENNETTE BARNES, Standard-Times staff writer
December 14, 2004

NEW BEDFORD — New Bedford’s only medical practice specializing in abortion appears to have closed, and an entire chain of abortion providers may be shutting down.

Dr. Howard J. Silverman, who runs Alternatives WomanCare and owns the 12 Brigham St. building, could not be reached for comment, but in December 1995 he confirmed to the Associated Press that his chain of for-profit clinics in New Bedford, Brookline, Shrewsbury and Hyannis was the subject of an FBI probe.

The investigation stemmed from the practices’ allegedly telling women their pregnancies were further along than they really were, in order to perform more complex and expensive abortion procedures.

Yesterday, telephone numbers for the New Bedford office, for a practice where he worked in Brookline, and for a Shrewsbury practice operating under the name WomanCare had been disconnected. The Standard-Times could not definitively connect Dr. Silverman with the Shrewsbury location.

On Brigham Street in New Bedford, a sign on the door said the office was open by appointment only, but the telephone number on the sign was disconnected.

No activity has been visible at the New Bedford office in a few weeks, according to staff at two other physicians’ offices on the street. A yellowed newspaper was stuck in the door handle.

Despite the closing, New Bedford obstetrician-gynecologist Dr. Kerry Gowell said women’s access to abortions would not be compromised. Many SouthCoast women prefer to travel to Providence or Boston.

“Most patients would like to do it outside the community,” he said. “It’s a private thing.”
But if access becomes difficult for women who rely on public transportation in the city, Dr. Gowell said he believes some of the physicians in his practice would be willing to staff a clinic locally.

Dr. Gowell works at New Bedford’s only obstetrics practice, Healthcare for Women on Brigham Street. A secretary at his practice said the office refers women to abortion providers in Attleboro or Providence and Cranston, R.I. She did not mention Alternatives WomanCare, but Dr. Gowell said patients would have been referred there as well.

Other obstetricians in the region might perform abortions in their offices, Dr. Gowell said, but Healthcare for Women does not.

Although the New Bedford office specialized in abortion, it was legally a physician’s office, not a clinic, and as such was not regulated by the Department of Public Health, DPH spokeswoman Nicole St. Peter said.

The office was the target of countless protests over the years, including one in April 1989 in which 200 protesters, mostly from the Boston-based anti-abortion group Operation Rescue, staged a surprise takeover of the building. Protesters pushed their way into the office, and 78 were arrested.

Today, Operation Rescue’s Web site hails the closing of the Brookline office. Photos on the group’s Web site show a sticker for an undelivered UPS package on the office door. “Perhaps baby killing instruments,” the caption says.

The Massachusetts Board of Registration in Medicine disciplined Dr. Silverman 20 years ago for placing his mouth on a female patient’s breast. State documents show Dr. Silverman admitted to the behavior.

No reason for the closings was clear yesterday.