By Alan Pyke
Doctors who violate their patients’ trust in the grossest imaginable fashion can haunt their lives long after they’ve been caught and chased out of the medical professions.
But new legislation to be introduced Thursday in New York City aims to begin to fix that. The proposal would allow sexual assault victims to obtain fresh copies of their children’s birth certificates that do not display the name of the doctor who abused them.
The highly specific proposal, authored by Councilman Mark Levine (D), is motivated by the barely-punished crimes of former OB/GYN Robert Hadden. Hadden sexually assaulted dozens of his patients over a period of years before being caught. When he was caught, prosecutors opted for a plea deal in which he would serve no prison time but forfeit his medical license and agree never to seek one in any other jurisdiction.
The legislation would mark a small but concrete victory for the Me Too movement. Hadden’s crimes came back into national headlines because Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance’s handling of sexual assault cases and campaign donationsdrew muckraking attention from reporters at the IBTimes last year, after Vance was accused of dogging investigations of Harvey Weinstein.
Vance had accepted campaign checks from close associates of the Hollywood mogul, and from the attorneys who represented Hadden. Though his office hotly contested the notion that those contributions had influenced his handling of either serial sexual assaulter, including in interviews with ThinkProgress, the renewed attention gave Hadden’s victims fresh traction.
Long after press attention had moved on from Vance, a woman named Marissa Hoechstetter was still trying to escape the shadow of what Hadden had done to her. She detailed her experiences to Buzzfeed News’ Albert Samaha in June, most of a year after the Vance connection had reupped the Hadden scandal. The piece ends in sorrow, with Hoechstetter explaining how every time she has to grab her children’s birth certificates for some administrative task, she sees the name of the man who assaulted her while he oversaw her pregnancy. Her attempts to get fresh documents expunged of his name “ha[d] so far run into bureaucratic walls and murky legal grounds,” Samaha wrote.
Levine’s bill would not automate the process. But it would end the legal murkiness. The relevant city authorities would be required to furnish a new, redacted birth certificate upon request any time the doctor involved has had their license stripped or suspended by the state’s Office of Professional Medical Conduct.
Thursday’s announcement comes two weeks after Hochstetter and other survivors of Hadden’s abuse — which other outlets have detailed in their coverage — filed a lawsuit against Columbia University, whose hospitals employed Hadden for decades. The suit alleges the university hospital administrators were aware of Hadden’s sexual violence against his patients for more than a decade.
Eight other women victimized by Hadden over the years have anonymously sought the same modest documentary relief that Hoechstetter decided to ask for publicly, Levine’s team said. The councilman had initially tried to help the women get their requests granted individually by the city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, but was told that the unprecedented request left records officials in an untenable position. They wanted to help, a spokesman for Levine told ThinkProgress, but felt that they could not do so without some sort of statutory backing — hence the legislation set to be introduced Thursday.
It’s a short, simple bill. If adopted, it would kick off some regulatory work to craft the procedures by which such requests would get granted while maintaining the integrity of a documents system that’s central to whole lifetimes of interactions between citizens and their government.
But unlike so many other stories of benevolent legislative intention and fuzzy follow-through regulation, where the best intentions of lawmakers can run aground in bureaucratic shallows — or run afoul of litigious opposition, as entertainment industry experts have sweatily worried may happen with various Hollywood efforts to take concrete action in response to sexual assault in the industry– Hoechstetter’s ask is too simple to screw up.
“Access to my body and delivering my children was a privilege that Hadden abused. While I now live with the reminder of his actions, I refuse to leave my daughters with his name on the document that marks their entrance into this world,” Hoechstetter said in a statement ahead of the bill’s official introduction. “With this legislation, I can now find comfort knowing that my daughters will not continue to carry my abuser’s name into their lives.“