New York City bill would let patients of abusive doctors amend birth certificates

By Graham Kates

Marissa Hoechstetter decided about three years ago she needed to get her former doctor's name removed from her twins' birth certificates. The obstetrician had been accused by Manhattan prosecutors of sexually abusing multiple patients, and he would later plead guilty to counts of criminal sex act and forcible touching. 

He's since been accused of sexual misconduct in multiple lawsuits by nearly two dozen more women, including Hoechstetter, who says the doctor abused her during and after her pregnancy. But none of that mattered when she contacted New York City officials: It turns out there's no simple process for removing a doctor's name.  

That could soon change. New York City Council Member Mark Levine plans to propose a bill Thursday that would require the city's Department of Health and Mental Hygiene's Office of Vital Records to redact physicians' names from birth certificates if the doctors' licenses have been suspended, surrendered or revoked by the state.

Hoechstetter had reached out to Levine earlier this year, and he thought he helping her would take just a few calls. But a Department of Health employee told him Hoechstetter would need to hire a lawyer, and get a court order, according to a July 18 email provided to CBS News.

Since then, Levine's office said eight more women who say they were victimized by the same doctor have come forward to request the same change, leading Levine to propose the new legislation.

"We cannot undo the damage done by abusers who exploit the vulnerability of women in an OB/GYN's office," Levine said in a statement to CBS News. "The least we can do is not subject survivors — and their children — to the pain of seeing their abuser's name on a document as foundational and meaningful as a birth certificate. This simple legislative fix is a small but important step towards justice for brave women like Marissa Hoechstetter."  

For Hoechstetter, the bill is more than the next step in her fight to get new birth certificates, it's an opportunity to help others who she's heard from in the two weeks since she and 16 others filed suit against the doctor, Robert Hadden, Columbia University and its hospitals.

"A lot of people have reached out and now this is something tangible that I can say, 'if this is an issue for you, reach out to your council member and have them support this,'" Hoechstetter said. "I'm just really grateful that Mark was willing to think creatively about this. It really means a lot to me. We say a lot, 'let's support survivors,' but this is someone really doing that." 

A spokesperson for the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene said the agency will review the legislation.

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