A California woman who sued her obstetrician for assault and battery after a disturbing birth video captured him giving her a forced episiotomy has won the first round of battle by default — as the doctor, Alex Abbassi, has surrendered his medical license.
“This is a huge win,” says Dawn Thompson, president of the advocacy organization Improving Birth, which has been assisting Kimberly Turbin of Los Angeles (pictured above with her son) with her case.
Though the organization just made the announcement on Monday, Abbassi, of Tarzana, Calif., surrendered his license at the end of August, due to a claim of “age-related cognitive defects,” according to his lawyer. The doctor acknowledges that his “cognitive functioning is such that he cannot safely practice medicine,” according to court documents obtained by Yahoo Parenting.
Thompson tells Yahoo Parenting she believes Abbassi’s move was clearly “tactical,” as it has allowed him to avoid being deposed as part of the lawsuit and has also required that the California Medical Board drop its investigation into the doctor, which it had recently begun as a result of Turbin’s complaint about him. But still, Thompson says, “Now he won’t be able to hurt anyone else.”
The video footage, filmed by Turbin’s sister in labor and delivery, captured the doctor condescending to Turbin, a two-time sexual-assault survivor, while she labored on her back. Abbassi then made 12 audible snips to her perineum after Turbin could be heard telling him, “No, don’t cut me. No!” It prompted a huge outcry after it was posted to YouTube, where it has been viewed more than 348,000 times.
Dr. Alex Abbassi. (Photo: Providence Tarzana Medical Center)
In June, Turbin filed a federal lawsuit against Abbassi with the aid of Improving Birth and a prominent civil-rights attorney, Mark Merin, saying publicly, “This is a big step for women who have been silenced.” That lawsuit — waged only after more than 80 attorneys refused to take it and after a crowd-sourcing campaign raised more than $13,000 for legal fees — is still ongoing, with a court date set for June 2016. But in the meantime, Turbin says she is “thrilled” that the doctor won’t be practicing anymore.
“It feels good. It’s about time,” Turbin, whose son is now 2, tells Yahoo Parenting. When news of her lawsuit first broke, she adds, “I got a lot of, ‘Oh, she’s doing it for the money,’ but it was never about the money. It’s exciting that he cannot practice in California anymore. That was the most important thing to me.”
Abbassi’s lawyer, Thomas Bradford of Burbank, Calif., did not return Yahoo Parenting’s request for comment.
The court document regarding the surrendering of Abbassi’s license claims that the doctor “took proactive measures” between March and June “to protect his patients by referring all of them to other health care providers, ceasing his practice of medicine and closing his office to all patients.”
But according to Thompson, who served Abbassi with the lawsuit in June, she had anonymously called his office just a few days prior, to find out his schedule so she’d know when to find him. “I specifically asked if he was accepting new patients at the time,” she alleges, “and was told, ‘yes he is.’”
In any event, Thompson explains that, as the impending court date in the lawsuit slowly nears, they are waiting to hear whether the federal government will even choose to defend Abbassi, as he’s being sued for battery rather than malpractice. If the case is refused at a federal level on those grounds, she says, then it would go to state court, making it a trial by jury rather than a single judge.
But whatever happens with the lawsuit, Turbin feels satisfied. “We never knew how far we would get,” she says, “and now I’m finally like, this is exactly what we wanted: He’s not going to be able to hurt anyone else.”
(Top photo: Kimberly Turbin)