TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (WIAT) — One year ago today, the state of Alabama revoked the temporary medical license given to Dr. Leah Torres just a few weeks after she moved to Alabama to practice medicine at a reproductive health clinic.
Torres, who attended medical school at the University of Illinois College of Medicine at Chicago, was recruited to work at the West Alabama Women’s Center in Tuscaloosa by Robin Marty, director of operations and author of the “Handbook for a Post-Roe America.”
“I said, ‘Do you want to come work at a full-spectrum reproductive health center?’ And she said yes, and I said, ‘Don’t you want to know where?’ And she said, ‘Nope,'” Marty said.
After moving to Alabama, Torres was granted a temporary medical license by the Alabama State Board of Medical Examiners and began practicing. She was awaiting an answer on her application for her permanent license when she was ordered to cease and desist practicing and to surrender her temporary license.
The order said that the Board possessed evidence “that the continuance in practice of Leah N. Torres, M.D. may constitute an immediate danger to her patients and/or the public.”
Torres also received a letter denying her application for a permanent medical license. The letter alleged she gave fraudulent answers on her application and “committed unprofessional conduct” when she made “public statements related to the practice of medicine which violate the high standards of honesty, diligence, prudence and ethical integrity… which shows a moral indifference to the standards and opinions of the community.”
When the documents came, patients were in the waiting room of WAWC, waiting to see Torres.
“Obviously it was extremely frustrating,” she said. “First of all because we had patients already in the waiting room waiting for procedures, and they were sent home. People who needed abortion care were called and told they co no longer come in.”
Torres stopped practicing immediately and the clinic had to outsource providers from other states, something that isn’t uncommon.
“That’s often how abortion care is in the south. Very few clinics in the south have doctors who live in their communities. Providers are scared of being harassed and targeted. A lot of people don’t feel safe,” Marty said.
It wasn’t just abortion care that was affected by the order; there were times the clinic wasn’t able to offer care at all, according to Marty.
“We had two months where we couldn’t see patients at all in January and February 2021,” she stated.
The order also impacted the clinic’s plan to expand birth control access, fact-based sex education and other health services.
“What’s been the most frustrating is the fact that when Dr.Torres came down, our plan was to begin offering IUDs, expanding birth control options and to be able to do fact-based, science-based sexual healthcare because it’s lacking here,” Marty said.
While the clinic struggled to provide care, Torres was out of work and facing a legal battle for what she was passionate about: providing reproductive healthcare to under-served populations.
“She didn’t need to know where it (the clinic) was. She just wanted to come provide care,” Marty said.
Appealing the denial of her permanent application took months and $115,000, but eventually Torres was granted a permanent license to practice medicine in Alabama, and she and Marty report that Torres received a letter that said “(this) action should never have been taken.”
The ASBME said they have sent no such correspondence and told CBS 42 that Torres may be referencing a “computer-generated letter” sent by the National Practitioner Data Bank, a confidential information agency created by U.S. Congress that serves as “a workforce tool that prevents practitioners from moving state to state without disclosure or discovery of previous damaging performance.”
Torres has already paid off $30,000 of the legal fees and in an ideal world, Marty said, WAWC would foot the bill, but that’s not realistic. While Torres could also challenge the board to recoup some of those costs, it could be risky.
“In most legal cases, you can challenge them for legal cost; the last thing she wants to do is incur more cost,” she said. “The medical board at its heart wants what every doctor does: to provide healthcare. I think there’s a part of her that understands that.”
“They may have different opinions on what constitutes healthcare and what’s necessary healthcare,
she said. “But in the end, she’s not going to do anything for her if it would just harm more Alabamians.”
In the meantime, Marty has started a GoFundMe for Torres’s legal fees. The center is hoping to get back on track with expanding care and education, working with the Yellowhammer Fund to provide IUDs, something notoriously hard to obtain in the state, Marty says, while expanding information about emergency contraception and preparing for a new virtual appointment program.
“There’s so much that can be done by telemedicine,” she said. “If they want to just ask questions or get a birth control refill or if they need other care, we’re here.”
The program, which is anticipated to be up by September, is one more way the center can provide care and education, said Marty.
“I think there is this assumption that because how it is set up and how it has existed that it’s all abortion all the time, and that’s all it’s ever going to be… there are so many other aspects to reproductive healthcare,” she said.
General Counsel for the board told CBS 42 the following:
Dr. Torres’ Temporary Emergency License expired by operation of law prior to the commencement of the hearing in her case. As a result, the Board’s summary suspension of that license based on Dr. Torres’ misrepresentation that she would use the license to treat COVID patients was never taken up by the Medical Licensure Commission. However, the Commission’s final order in the appeal suggests that they would have sided with the Board on this issue.
The final order states that ‘there were elements in some of Dr. Torres’s answers in her application which, in their totality, were suggestive of deceptive answers and a lack of ethical integrity expected of practicing physicians in Alabama. Thus, the Commission directs that Dr. Torres must attend an ethics course.’
While Dr. Torres was ultimately given a medical license by the Medical Licensure Commission, she was directed to take an ethics course and to pay a fine of $4,000 prior to receiving her license.
Dr. Torres’ statement that she received a letter from the Board stating that ‘(this) action should never have been taken’ is indicative of the deceptive answers the Board charged her with providing in her license application. No correspondence of this nature was ever sent to her by the Board. We suspect that Dr. Torres is referring to a computer generated letter sent to her by the National Practitioner Data Bank.
The Commission remanded the case to the Board to issue a certificate of qualification, subject to the sanctions stated above, based on their finding that Dr. Torres did commit at least some of the acts identified by the Board.
This story has been updated to reflect statements CBS 42 received from General Counsel to the ASBME.