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Late-term abortion doctor arraigned for murder in Maryland

By Jason Tomassini

BALTIMORE (Reuters) - A New Jersey doctor accused of murder for performing late-term abortions in Maryland was arraigned in court on Friday and freed on $500,000 bail.

Dr. Steven Chase Brigham, 55, who owns abortion clinics in multiple states, and a second doctor he employed, are charged with murder for allegedly starting late-term abortions in New Jersey and completing them in Maryland, which has looser restrictions about where abortions can be performed.

The other doctor, Dr. Nicola Irene Riley, remains held without bail in Utah since her arrest December 28.

Her attorneys filed a motion asking that the Maryland prosecutor be held in contempt of court for stalling her case, and for withholding information and sharing it with the media in order to press "a hot-button political issue," they said.

The case may be the first to test Maryland's fetal homicide law, under which murder charges can be brought against people who "intend to cause the death of a viable fetus."

Riley, who is charged with one count of first-degree murder and other charges, is awaiting an extradition hearing in Utah on January 9.

Brigham was returned from New Jersey to Maryland. He was arraigned on Friday on five counts of first-degree murder, each for killing a "viable" fetus in July and August 2010, according to the indictment. Brigham posted $500,000 bail and was released from custody, his attorney Thomas Brown said.

"Dr. Brigham has not violated any Maryland laws," Brown said in a statement on Friday.

Maryland authorities said they brought the murder charges after conducting a 16-month criminal investigation triggered by the botched abortion of a woman nearly six months pregnant.

Brigham has a history of bungled late-term abortions, according to a New York State Department of Health report.

The report said his medical license was suspended in 1994 after he performed abortions on two women who were more than 24 weeks pregnant. Exhibiting "gross negligence," the report said, Brigham in both cases injured the woman's uterus during the abortion and failed to properly transport her to a hospital.

According to New York law, an abortion is considered a felony if performed on a woman more than 24 weeks pregnant, unless the procedure is "necessary to preserve her life." No criminal charges were filed against Brigham in New York.

Jennifer Givner, a spokeswoman for the New York Attorney General's office, said the statute of limitations of five years has expired on any possible charges against Brigham.

(Additional reporting by Dan Wiessner in Albany; editing by Anthony Boadle)

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