An Oklahoma City-area physician who has long been a flashpoint in the debate over reproductive rights in the state was arrested Tuesday as part of a sting operation.
Dr. Naresh Patel, who operates the Outpatient Services for Women Clinic in Warr Acres, Oklahoma, faces fraud charges for allegedly prescribing abortion-inducing drugs to three undercover agents who were not pregnant.
Patel is a controversial figure — he’s been accused of other crimes in the past that spurred heated protests by anti-abortion activists. While he certainly hasn’t committed crimes as egregious as those of Kermit Gosnell, the Philadelphia doctor who was convicted last year of the first-degree murders of three babies born alive, Patel’s case may similarly give pro-life groups ammunition to advocate for more restrictive abortion laws.
His clinic is also one of only three in a state that has passed some of the nation’s harshest abortion laws. So his arrest could not only lead to the closure of the only clinic serving Oklahoma City, but give state legislators an additional line of argument to further restrict residents’ access to abortion.
The Oklahoma Medical Licensure Board, the Oklahoma City Police Department and the Attorney General’s Office jointly carried out the sting that led to Patel’s arrest by setting up appointments at his clinic for the female agents, according to a release from the Attorney General’s office. Patel allegedly told each woman that she was pregnant after performing ultrasound and pregnancy tests. He then allegedly prescribed abortion-inducing drugs and charged the women for the unnecessary procedure.
“This type of fraudulent activity and blatant disregard for the health and well-being of Oklahoma women will not be tolerated,” Attorney General Scott Pruitt said in the release. “Oklahoma women should be able to trust that the advice they receive from their physicians is truthful, accurate and does not jeopardize their health.”
The release states that the undercover investigation was sparked by a complaint that he performed an abortion procedure on a patient who later that year died of complications from cervical cancer. An autopsy determined that the woman, Pamela King, had not been pregnant when Patel performed the procedure, according to the release.
Patel was booked into Oklahoma County Jail on Tuesday and released later that day on $2,000 bail. He faces up to 15 years in jail and a maximum fine of $15,000 if convicted.
And this isn’t even the most eye-popping accusation the doctor has been the subject of.
Patel was arrested in 1993 for allegedly forcing a patient to perform oral sex on him after she was sedated. Two other former patients later came forward to testify at trial that Patel anesthetized and then raped them. He testified that he never had sex with any of the patients, and was ultimately acquitted of sexual assault charges.
The physician also attracted national attention the year prior to that arrest, when he admitted to burning aborted fetuses on land he owned near Shawnee, Oklahoma.
Patel told investigators that he was having trouble getting any business in Oklahoma City to accept the fetuses for disposal, and at the time, the state did not have statutes in place regarding the proper disposal of fetuses. No criminal charges were filed against Patel for the incident.
The fetus-burning incident made Patel a target for anti-abortion activists, who continued to protest outside his offices for more than a year.
Asked for comment on Patel’s case, Central Oklahoma’s Planned Parenthood chapter referred TPM to Planned Parenthood of the Heartland. Spokeswoman Angie Remington wouldn’t comment on Patel’s case other than to say that the physician is not affiliated with the organization.
And in response to a question on how Patel’s arrest could influence the state legislature, Remington pointed to Oklahoma’s numerous abortion laws. State lawmakers have passed legislation including restrictions on abortion coverage in health insurance plans, a 24-hour waiting period, and mandatory counseling that pro-choice advocates say is designed to discourage women from going through with the procedure. Last month, the state’s Supreme Court blocked two new laws that required abortion physicians to have admitting privileges at local hospitals and restricted medication abortions.
“I think that the temperature in Oklahoma is already set,” Remington told TPM by email.
Martha Skeeters, the president of Oklahoma Coalition for Reproductive Justice, agreed that abortion is already so highly regulated that no further legislation is necessary. While she cautioned that it’s hard to tell how state legislators would respond to Patel’s case, she did suggest that at least some of them may seize on the arrest for their own ends.
“The Oklahoma legislature has been waging war on women and families since 2008 with regard to reproductive rights, and some may use the apparent disgraceful conduct of Dr. Patel to intensify this attack,” she told TPM by email.
This post has been updated.