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WASHINGTON (AP) — A physician who performs abortions at a Washington hospital filed a federal civil rights complaint Monday alleging that she's been unfairly barred from speaking publicly about her view that abortion is an essential procedure for women's health.
The complaint was filed with the civil rights division of the Health and Human Services Department. It says Dr. Diane Horvath-Cosper, an obstetrician and gynecologist at MedStar Washington Hospital Center, was barred from talking to the media about her views on abortion rights under the guise of increased security after the November 2015 shooting at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado.
Horvath-Cosper has emerged in recent years as an advocate for abortion rights. She wrote an op-ed in The Washington Post in October 2015 about the threats and potential violence faced by abortion providers.
The complaint was filed under a 1973 federal law that shields doctors and other health care workers from discrimination because of their views on abortion. It's typically cited by medical providers who refuse to perform or assist in abortions because of their religious beliefs or moral convictions. Gretchen Borchelt, a vice president with the National Women's Law Center and one of Horvath-Cosper's attorneys, said she was unaware of a previous complaint that cited the law on behalf of a doctor who feels a moral obligation to advocate for abortion rights.
"She has a deep moral conviction that as a doctor she has a moral duty and obligation to speak about this as a medical procedure and to take every action she can to destigmatize this," said Debra Katz, Horvath-Cosper's private attorney. "By doctors speaking out, it does in fact do that."
According to the complaint, on Dec. 4, 2015, Horvath-Cosper was ordered by Dr. Gregory Argyros, the hospital's chief medical officer, to stop speaking publicly about abortion because he "did not want to put a K-Mart blue light special on the fact that we provide abortions at MedStar."
Donna Arbogast, MedStar vice president of public affairs and marketing, said in a statement that the hospital "is committed to providing family planning services for our community, and we do so in a respectful, private and safe environment. We look forward to cooperating fully with the Office of Civil Rights."
According to the complaint, Argyros later clarified to Horvath-Cosper that she could speak publicly if she sought the approval of the hospital's public affairs office. However, the hospital has since denied all such requests, the complaint says.
Horvath-Cosper started working at MedStar, which receives federal funding, in 2014 under a fellowship meant to train family-planning physicians and reverse a nationwide drop in the number of abortion providers. Advocating for the procedure is part of the fellowship "because of the continued attempts to stigmatize and discourage abortion, and the ongoing need to counterbalance the anti-abortion rhetoric that threatens women's access to abortion," the complaint says.
According to the complaint, the hospital did little to increase security in the wake of the Colorado shootings, instead turning its attention toward silencing Horvath-Cosper.
"It's just simply not the case that gagging the providers makes it a safer environment for patients," Katz said.