An anti-abortion activist taking photographs outside a controversial Santa Ana family planning clinic suffered minor injuries Saturday afternoon after being attacked by a physician who obviously did not appreciate having his picture taken.
According to Santa Ana Police records, Howard Tendai Pfpajena, 66, was arrested on suspicion of assault and battery about 12:30 p.m. near Fourth and Sycamore streets. Online Christian and pro-life news services that earlier today reported [here and here] on the incident had “Pfupajena” as the spelling of the suspect's last name and claimed he is a physician at Clinica Medica Para La Mujer at 120 W 5th St., which is about a half block from where the suspect was arrested.
An unidentified receptionist at the clinic confirmed Tuesday evening that “Dr. Pfupajena” works there on an on-call basis. She said he was not present at the time the Weekly called, and she did not know about Saturday's arrest even though she was working at the clinic that afternoon. “Is he still in jail?” she asked.
Police cited and released the suspect at the scene. According to the rabid anti-abortion organization Operation Rescue and the online news reports, the Orange County District Attorney's office is weighing whether charges will be filed against Pfupajena.
The 31-year-old victim, Tim Nissen, is an anti-abortion protester who was photographing people going into Clinica Medica because of fears unlicensed or unsafe abortions are being performed there. The clinic's owner currently faces charges that could put her behind bars for nearly 20 years after allegedly performing abortions and doling out medication without a medical license.
The Santa Ana clinic is part of a chain of Southern California abortion centers. A Los Angeles District Attorney's statement refers to offices in Baldwin Park, Huntington Park, Los Angeles and Panorama City, operating either under the name Clinica Medica Para La Mujer de Hoy or Community Women’s Medical Clinic. Public records contain references to four more locations, in Chula Vista, North Hollywood, Torrance and Santa Ana. One clinic doctor said in a deposition for a 2002 malpractice suit that there were nine clinics.
A California Medical Board complaint accused Dr. Phillip Rand of having performed a “barbaric” abortion at the Santa Ana location in the summer of 2004. Then in his early 80s, Rand administered no anesthesia or painkillers to a woman identified as Angela P. before he performed a vaginal suction procedure. Paramedics later arrived at the clinic to find Angela lying in a pool of her own blood, her pulse racing and her blood pressure dangerously low.
The medical board complaint stated Rand's suction abortion was a “severe departure” from a reasonable standard of care. He had determined that Angela was 20 weeks pregnant, well into her second trimester. The National Abortion Federation reportedly claims that vacuum aspiration procedures are normally performed on women who are up to 14 weeks pregnant. After 14 weeks, a more complicated procedure, known as dilation and evacuation, is standard.
Rand surrendered his medical license in 2005. According to a Los Angeles Times report at the time, he was one of at least six doctors with histories of malpractice complaints, addiction or medical board actions who were employed by the Clinica Medica chain.
Owner Bertha Pinedo Bugarin, 48, just pleaded not guilty this past July 8 to posing as a physician to perform abortions without a license at Clinica Medica in Chula Vista. She also faces charges there of being unlicensed when she prescribed women the drug mifepristone, and a second set of counts for being unlicensed as she aborted fetuses and prescribed medication at a Clinica Medica in Los Angeles. Raquel Bugarin, Bertha's 49-year-old sister, also faces charges in both counties for having helped Bertha with the procedures.
Bertha Bugarin is currently free on $500,000 bail as she awaits an Oct. 14 hearing date in San Diego County. Raquel posted bail of $100,000. They face up to 19 years in jail if convicted in both counties.
Another abortion practitioner in the chain, Laurence Reich, was arrested earlier this year for allegedly performing abortions even though his medical license had been revoked last year after a second conviction of having sexually molested patients.
Operation Rescue is trying to confirm whether Burgarin just sold Santa Ana's Clinica Medica to abortion practitioner Nolan Jones. The Christian Newswire account says Jones has his own problems with state medical authorities with numerous cases of Medical Board disciplinary action for botched abortions.
The Christian Newswire reports that “Pfupajena's medical license shows no indications of previous disciplinary action.” But Nissen did not know that as he trained his lens on the doctor Saturday.
“Tim was going to photograph the guy so they could figure out of if he is performing legal or illegal abortions,” confirmed Operation Rescue spokeswoman Cheryl Sullenger in Wichita, Kansas. “If they are illegal, he would report him to authorities.”
According to the account Nissen gave to Sullenger shortly after the incident, the man walking into the clinic spotted the photographer and covered himself up with a jacket. But Nissen figured out a place he could stand to catch the same man coming out of the clinic.
“Tim had asked a police officer who stopped nearby to ticket someone if it was OK to take pictures where he was standing,” Sullenger said. “The officer said, 'Yeah, all the stuff there is on the public sidewalk, it is not private property.' It's open to whoever; a news photographer could take pictures there. So, after the officer told Tim it was OK, he waited until the guy came out.”
After the man exited the clinic, Nissen snapped a shot before the jacket could be used as a cover again. The man then got in his car, and Nissen shot more photos. “The doctor had apparently had enough,” Sullenger said. “He started to drive off, but then he got out of his car, demanded the camera, and said Tim had no right to take his photo. Tim did not want give it to him, so he started back pedaling as the guy was pushing and grabbing at his camera. Tim fell over backwards and hit his head on a parking meter pole. It really jacked up his back. He lost control of his camera, his knuckles were all scraped.”
She claimed the man stomped on the camera in an attempt to break it. When Nissen retrieved his camera, “that's when the guy got him on ground, put his knee on his throat and started choking him," Sullenger said. "Tim thought, 'This guy could actually kill me.'”
Witnesses called police and paramedics arrived to tend to Nissen, but he refused to go to the hospital because he does not have medical insurance, Sullenger said. She later advised the activist to see a doctor and says Operation Rescue now has medical and paramedic reports to bolster their case against the doctor. The organization will wait to see how the DA's office proceeds before deciding whether the photographer should file civil charges against the physician. “It is definitely under consideration,” Sullenger said.
Meanwhile, anti-abortion protesters are being advised to pair up if they are going to camp outside Clinica Medica.
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“I did recommend that no one goes there by themselves. Go with a buddy. If there is at least one other person, then people don't feel as brave,” said Sullenger, who told of recent incidents in Wichita and Reno, Nevada, where doctors have “just gone off” on pro-life protesters.
Since the early 1990s, at least 12 personal injury and malpractice lawsuits and one wrongful death suit have been filed in Los Angeles County against Bugarin, the clinics or both, reports the Times. The defendants in the suits denied most of the allegations. The Times discovered at least six of the 13 cases ended in settlements or judgments against the defendants; several attorneys involved in the lawsuits said they didn’t recall all the outcomes, although charges were dropped in some cases.
State officials closed the Chula Vista clinic shortly before Burgarin entered her plea. Sullenger believes the Santa Ana clinic should be next.
“That place has had a lot of problems,” she said. “It is pretty shocking when you think about it. That it is still even open at all is more shocking.”