Controversy over abortion bill continues
by Daniel Gaddy
Mar 03, 2012 | 2679 views | 0 0 comments | 21 21 recommendations | email to a friend | print
A Birmingham abortion clinic owner and a former political opponent of Sen. Greg Reed (R-Jasper) say a company the lawmaker works for has sold ultrasound equipment to abortion clinics. If true, the statements would make Reed’s support of a bill requiring an ultrasound for all non-emergency abortions a conflict of interest. However, Reed says the claims are unsubstantiated and a poorly hidden attack on his character because of his political views.

Earlier this week, Reed received national media attention that brought to light his position as vice president of Preferred Medical Systems, which sells ultrasound equipment, and his support of the anti-abortion legislation Senate Bill 12.

The bill requires doctors to perform a vaginal or abdominal ultrasound (whichever shows the embryo clearer) before any non-emergency abortion. Doctor’s that refuse will face a Class C felony, meaning a sentence of two to 20 years. Virginia lawmakers are considering similar legislation, and they have received condemnation from dozens of pro-choice groups.

In a phone interview on Thursday, Reed said a conflict of interest does not exist because his company has a policy not to do business with abortion clinics.

Friday morning, Brett Wadsworth, the 2010 Democratic candidate for the Alabama District 5 Senate seat, sent the Daily Mountain Eagle a Preferred Medical Systems price quote from 2011 detailing the costs of ultrasound equipment for the consideration of Columbus Women’s Health, a Georgia clinic that provides abortion services.

Diane Derzis, owner of the clinic as well as three others in Alabama and Mississippi, verified the contents of the price quote and said her clinics have purchased at least two ultrasound devices from Preferred Medical Systems sales representative based in Georgia.

“There’s no question these people have done business with us over the years,” Derzis said.

Reed said the price quote is something his company hands out to countless potential customers, and it doesn’t mean Preferred Medical did business with the clinic.

He said he and representatives from Preferred Medical looked through the company’s financial records and could find no document regarding a transaction with any of Derzis’ clinics.

“Just because we gave a quotation to them doesn’t mean we do business with them,” he said.

Derzis said she called a sales representative with Preferred Medical after reading news articles describing the company’s policy about abortion clinics. She said the salesperson was happy to accommodate her until she told him that her clinic offered abortion services. She said he then told her they could not do business.

“It was clear to me that this was a new thing,” she said.

Reed said Preferred Medical Systems does not sell its equipment to any organization that identifies itself as an abortion clinic or appears to offer abortion services. He said the claims of a conflict of interest are simply an effort by his political opponents to discredit him.

“When you stand up for pro-life, you are always going to have a small, vocal minority that’s going to attack you,” he said. “I’m going to continue to pursue this issue. I’m still pro-life, and I stand on those issues as I have all along.”

The Eagle requested Derzis to provide sales invoices from her clinic’s transactions with Preferred Medical, and she provided the contact information for the executive director of her Mississippi clinic, Shelley Abrams.

Abrams said the clinic had indeed purchased ultrasound machines from the company, and she agreed to look for the financial records. Though she was unable to locate them before press time Friday, she provided a copy of an e-mail from a Preferred Medical salesperson requesting Derzis to “confirm that the serial numbers for the existing R3 units (the devices named in the price quote) are as follows.”

Reed said the existing units in the e-mail must have been purchased from Preferred Medical from a third party and then sold to Derzis’ clinic because they found no records of the transaction.

A 1996 Associated Press article called Derzis one of Alabama’s most visible pro-choice advocates, and she was dubbed the “abortion queen” by state lawmakers she lobbied during her career.

Derzis added that the device used for vaginal ultrasounds costs thousands of dollars by itself, and with the passage of S.B. 12, companies like Preferred Medical that sell the probes stand to make a lot of money.

Regardless of the conflict of interest controversy, Derzis said lawmakers who support S.B.12 are simply trying to harass women.

“They’re vicious,” she said. “There is nothing medical about this.”

When asked about his motivations for providing the documents, Wadsworth stressed that it is not a case of sour grapes.

“Every day there’s something positive about him in the paper, and if people don’t check the facts they’ll never know the truth,” he said.

Wadsworth later added, “He’s got a good way of spinning things, and I just want people to know the truth.”