Infamous abortion provider Leah Torres has had her medical license temporarily suspended in Alabama as of August 26, 2020 until at least December 2020. But this story, while mainly concerning Torres, also involves an abortion clinic which has been in the news a lot in the past few years — West Alabama Women’s Center.
Torres’ story is twofold. She was initially denied board certification and subsequently had her license suspended. Torres sent in her application for certification of qualification to the Alabama State Board of Medical Examiners (ASBME) and received a letter back denying her application. Subsequently, the ASBME lodged an Administrative Complaint against her to the Medical Licensure Commission of Alabama, which sent her a notice that her license was temporarily suspended based on the reasons her certification was denied. The Commission set a hearing date of December 21, 2020 to formally hear the complaint from the ASBME, and Torres is ordered to attend to answer the allegations.
“All physicians in the United States must be licensed in order to practice medicine, but they are not required to be certified.” This means if Torres had just been denied her certification application, she could have still legally practiced medicine in Alabama as long as she maintained her medical license in that state. However, she also got her medical license suspended. Until at least December 21, 2020, Torres cannot legally practice medicine in the state of Alabama, meaning she cannot perform abortions and may remain completely unemployed until then.
How does the West Alabama Women’s Center (WAWC) play into this story?
This abortion clinic has a long and colorful history and has been in the news several times recently, changing ownership, having their original abortion provider and co-founder retire, and even being under continued investigation for the death of a woman back in May (see timeline below). In fact, the center has not been inspected for over a year (last inspection Jan 2019), and is operating illegally — with the state doing apparently nothing about it. Gloria Gray, the owner and co-founder of WAWC, sold the clinic to Yellowhammer Fund in May 2020. Yellowhammer Fund is an abortion advocacy group dedicated to helping women pay for their abortions.
Under Alabama state law, an abortion or reproductive health center must get their operating license reissued under a new license when “change in facility ownership or operating entity” happens. However, WAWC is still operating with an old license under Gloria Gray’s name! The application for a new license is supposed to be submitted at least 30 days prior to the ownership change to allow time for processing and issuing of a new license. However, this has apparently not happened yet.
Additionally, back in May just shortly before Yellowhammer Fund’s purchase was announced, a woman died just hours after exiting the abortion clinic. Pro-life groups publicly called for an investigation into the death. While many news outlets reported that the Tuscaloosa Sheriff's Office had conducted an initial investigation with an investigator for the Alabama Board of Medical Examiners and “found no basis for criminal charges,” when Dr. Patricia Gensemer requested the autopsy report from the Alabama Department of Forensic Sciences under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), she was told by the Department that the Alabama District Attorney had informed them the death is still under criminal investigation, so the records are not available publicly yet. WAWC announced on their Facebook page,
“Due to privacy restrictions, we are unable to provide any additional information or directly comment on any details released either by reporters or opponents of the right to an abortion. What we are able to say is that we remain completely committed to a person's right to obtain an abortion legally, safely and with the utmost of dignity. We will continue to uphold the highest standards in safety both in our medical care and in our protection of personal medical information.
We find it unfortunate but not at all surprising that those who would deny a person the right to determine their own bodily autonomy or control of their future would seek to exploit this tragic situation for political gain. However, as long as abortion remains legal in the state of Alabama we promise to offer the highest quality of care, compassion, safety and privacy to every patient who walks through our doors.”
Neither WAWC nor most news outlets have discussed the fact that the death of the patient who went there on May 7, 2020 is still under criminal investigation. If she received an abortion, it would have been done by Louis Payne. It is disingenuous of WAWC to accuse pro-lifers of using a death for political gain when the center and their owners are politically motivated and are spinning the story for their political benefit, as clearly evidenced in their own Facebook post about the matter.
Torres briefly worked for WAWC. Torres initially received her license to practice medicine in Alabama on July 23 of this year, and was hired to be the new medical director at WAWC in August after the retirement of Louis Payne in July of this year, who was over 80 years old. Rewire reported,
“With Dr. Torres at the helm, WAWC intends to expand its abortion services to the full gestational limit set by Alabama law…”
Since Torres can no longer legally practice medicine, yet WAWC seems to be still be providing services, they may have found a replacement for Torres so they can continue doing abortions.
“West Alabama Women’s Center is following all state guidelines regarding its operation...We believe the actions taken regarding Dr. Torres’s licensing application are based on misunderstandings concerning documents she filed with the Board of Medical Examiners and the Medical Licensure Commission. We know Dr. Torres to be an entirely honorable and professional doctor and look forward to the resolution of the issues relating to her application and license.”
Rewire told readers in the same article,
“The letter of notice from the Board of Medical Examiners says that Torres, in her application, gave false answers to several questions including whether her staff privileges had ever been revoked or suspended at any hospital or health care facility.”
Yet Rewire does not even link to the letter or order to Torres so that people can read for themselves exactly what the ASBME said concerning the denial of her application.
Why was Leah Torres’ license suspended? If we look at the documents themselves, we find out exactly why:
- She intentionally lied by answering “no” to question 6: “Have your staff privileges at any hospital or health care facility been revoked, suspended, curtailed, limited, or placed under conditions restricting your practice?” This is considered fraud.
- She intentionally lied by answering “no” to question 8: “Have you ever had a judgment rendered against you, or action settled relating to performance of your professional service?” According to the ASBME, she settled a claim on or around August 28, 2018. This is considered fraud.
- She intentionally lied by answering “no” to question 10: “Within the past five years, have you ever raised the issue of consumption of drugs or alcohol or the issue of a mental, emotional, nervous, or behavioral disorder or condition as a defense, mitigation, or explanation for your actions in the course of any administrative or judicial proceeding or investigation; any inquiry or other proceeding; or any proposed termination by an educational institution; employer; government agency; professional organization; or licensing authority?” In her newsworthy lawsuit (United States District Court for the District of Utah, case number 2:19-cv-175-BSJ) against 3 media outlets which she filed in March 2019, she, through counsel, raised the issue of a mental, emotional, nervous, or behavioral disorder or condition as a defense, mitigation, or explanation for her actions. This is considered fraud.
- She intentionally lied by saying “yes” to question 14 but also stated she “worked as a locum tenens physician” from June 2018 to Feb 2019: “Has your medical education, training or practice been interrupted or suspended, or have you ceased to engage in direct patient care, for a period longer than 60 days for any reason other than a vacation or for the birth or adoption of a child?” In fact, ABSME said she was unemployed from March to Dec of 2018, and Torres' admits this in her lawsuit. This is considered fraud.
- The last finding was: “That you have committed unprofessional conduct as defined in the rules promulgated by the Medical Licensure Commission; specifically, you have made public statements related to the practice of medicine which violate the high standards of honesty, diligence, prudence, and ethical integrity demanded from physicians licensed to practice in Alabama and which evidence conduct which is immoral and which is willful, shameful, and which shows a moral indifference to the standards and opinions of the community, in violation of Rule 545-X-4-.06 of the Rules and Regulations of the Medical Licensure Commission, all in violation of Ala. Code § 34-24-360(2).” There were no specific examples given for this finding, but it is possible her posts on social media concerning abortion were a part of this, like her since-deleted tweet about cutting the cord to prevent babies from screaming during abortions (she clarified this meant umbilical cord, a known abortion practice).
This is in many ways a victory for pro-life people, because one fewer abortion provider is practicing, which means there could be lives being saved. Additionally, an abortion clinic providing over half of the entire state’s abortions is operating illegally and the death of one of their patients is still being investigated, which gives hope for a temporary closing of doors at some point or a stop to abortion services while lack of proper licensing gets sorted out and investigation reports become available.
The pro-life community should not engage in harassment, abuse, or violence against Torres like telling her she should have been aborted, she should commit suicide, she should be dead, threaten to harm or kill her, dox her, provide fake reviews about her, or in any way physically harass or harm her; and the pro-life community should condemn people self-identifying as pro-life who treat her or respond to the news about her suspension in these ways. People who do this give our movement a bad name and only enforce the stereotype that pro-lifers hate women.
While I do not respect Torres as a professional/doctor because she has repeatedly chosen to perform abortions as part of her career, she is still a human being with inherent dignity and worth. The pro-life community can certainly celebrate that one fewer person is able to perform abortions for at least a few months. We should also keep in mind she has yet another chance to reevaluate her career choice of providing abortions.
- 1993: Gloria Gray owns and operates WAWC, which in recent years has performed over half the abortions in the state. Louis Payne is the presiding doctor doing abortions.
- 2012: Leah Torres moves to Utah to practice medicine and perform abortions.
- March 11, 2018: Torres tweets about cutting the cord during an abortion.
- March 14, 2018: Torres clarifies in a followup tweet that she meant the umbilical cord, not the vocal cords.
- March 15, 2018: Torres deletes tweet about cutting the cord.
- March 23, 2018: Torres is fired for violating part of her contract concerning maintaining her professional reputation.
- March to Dec 2018: Torres admits to being unemployed.
- January 2019: WAWC last inspected, Louis Payne, over 80, is still performing abortions.
- March 2019: Leah Torres sues publications for defamation, false light invasion of privacy, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and tortious interference. It appears as of September, all or part of the case has been dismissed as being out of the jurisdiction it was filed under, but the entire case is not yet closed.
- May 7, 2020: A woman visits WAWC and dies hours later at Druid County Hospital
- May 15th, 2020: New outlets report WAWC was sold and transferred ownership from Gray to YellowHammer Fund, an abortion advocacy group helping women pay for abortions.
- July 2020: Louis Payne retires from WAWC
- August 3, 2020: Announcement of Leah Torres as new medical director at WAWC.
- August 5, 2020: Dr. Patricia Gensemer requests the autopsy report from the Alabama Department of Forensic Sciences of the woman who died on May 7th, 2020 under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).
- August 13, 2020: AL.com reports that the Tuscaloosa Sheriff’s Department conducted an initial investigation with a person from the Board of Medical Examiners and “found no basis for criminal charges.”
- August 14, 2020: Robin Marty via WAWC’s Facebook page comments on the death of the patient from May 7, 2020.
- August 17, 2020: Torres’ blocks someone on Twitter who asked if she was board certified.
- August 19, 2020: The ASBME considers Torres’ application for board certification.
- August 20, 2020: ASBME denies her certification of qualification based on 5 findings. They make an administrative complaint to the Medical Licensure Commission of Alabama.
- August 26, 2020: The Medical Licensure Commission of Alabama suspends Torres’ medical license, orders her to stop practicing medicine in the state.
- August 27, 2020: Alabama Department of Forensic Sciences denies request for autopsy report to Dr. Gensemer because the state District Attorney told them the death is still under criminal investigation.
- September 10, 2020: Robin Marty comments on Leah Torres’ license suspension to Rewire and posts it on WAWC’s Facebook page.
Note: Operation Rescue and AbortionDocs.org are two extremely valuable pro-life resources, and many citations in this article are from these sites and/or I was able to find after referencing an article or resource on these websites. Operation Rescue provides articles with original investigative journalism results and both websites make many documents public which relate to abortion clinics and providers public (they have received these documents through FOIA requests).
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official position of Human Defense Initiative.