A tearful young woman testified in court yesterday that a Northern Virginia physician gave her a saline injection to induce an abortion last November and told her she could go to a motel room to await the completion of her abortion.
"He said it was possible to do it at home," said the sobbing 17-year-old Woodbridge girl, who testified that she subseuqently deposited her fetus in the wastebasket of a Springfield motel room. "He never really mentioned the hospital."
Following her testimony, Fairfax County Juvenile Court Judge Philip N. Brophy referred to a grand jury the case of Dr. Chris Simopoulos, an employe of the American Women's Clinic in Falls Church. Simopoulos, who remains free under $5,000 bond, is charged with performing an abortion outside a hospital setting on a woman more than 13 weeks pregnant.
If convicted, Simopolous could be sentenced to two to 10 years in prison. The county grand jury, which could return an indictment, is due to convene next Jan. 22.
The case is viewed as a rarity in Fairfax County, which has not seen a prosecution on an illegal abortion charge since before 1973, when the U.S. Supreme Court limited the powers of states to restrict abortions.
Following yesterday's hearing, defense counsel Roy Lucas said he would renew efforts to obtain an injunction against prosecution of his client. Lucas said the Virginia abortion law abridges the constitutionally guaranteed right of women to obtain abortions.
"We were not even allowed to raise constitutional arguments," said Lucas, who last month filed a countersuit in U.S. District Court in Alexandria contesting the statute on constitutional grounds.
"We weren't allowed to prove that she [the young woman] couldn't have gotten into a hospital. The only hospital in Northern Virginia that allows second trimester abortions also requires parental consent," Lucas said, adding that the 17-year-old was "terrified" of approaching her parents.
Lucas also claimed that Simopoulos provided a printed sheet of instructions to the woman directing her to go to a hospital, and said that she was "clearly outside the control of the doctor" once she left his office.
Simopoulos, 42, was arrested by Falls Church police on Nov. 19 after a maid found the dead fetus in the waste-basket at the Springfield motel. An autopsy report completed by county medical examiners estimated that the fetus was more than 5 months old.
In a emotional courtroom scene, the diminutive blond young woman struggled unsuccessfully to keep back wrenching sobs as she told prosecutor Robert F. Horan that she had paid Simopoulos $500 to terminate her unwanted pregnancy. The young woman's name was not released by court officials because she is a minor.
Twisting tissues in her hands and staring at her shoes, the woman managed only monosyllabic answers to many of Horan's questions. She testified that she visited Simopoulos in his Falls Church office twice last November, telling him she believed she was 22 weeks pregnant, and that he administered the saline injection into the fetus on the second visit. She said she then went to the motel to await the contractions that would expel the fetus, and checked out two days later without talking to Simopoulos again.
Speaking with reporters before yesterday's hearing, Simopoulos said, "The abortion did not take place in my office."
"Nobody aborts in my office in the second trimester," Simopoulos said.
A Fairfax County police investigator testified later that Simopoulos had said he performed an abortion on the woman when questioned about a prescription he wrote for her.
"I asked Dr. Simopoulos if he prescribed the drug and he said yes, for abdominal pain," said James Dooley Jr. "When I asked him why, his response was: "I did an abortion."
Papers filed by Simopoulos in federal court do not state that the doctor injected the woman to induce an abortion, but they do say that Simopoulos advises patients to go to a hospital after such an injection "once they begin aborting the fetus."