Anti-abortion protesters target Newport doctor

About 50 to 100 anti-abortion protesters wrote messages in chalk and shouted slurs outside the home of a Newport Beach obstetrician Thursday night.

The protest began at about 8 p.m. outside the Dover Shores home of Richard Agnew, who is affiliated with Hoag Hospital, authorities said.

Agnew was one of a slate of Hoag Hospital-affiliated doctors to oppose the institution's recent decision to eliminate elective abortion services in the wake of its affiliation with Catholic health system St. Joseph Health.

Demonstrators, who mostly appeared to be in their early teens, wrote messages in chalk that included "neighborhood serial killer" and "this house was built from blood," according to the doctor's son, Richard Agnew Jr.

Paula Durnian, a longtime neighbor of the Agnews in Dover Shores, said she found the protest to be "really out of line."

"I'm a firm believer in freedom of speech, but this was a disturbance of the peace," she said. "We had to clean the street because they chalked the most horrific things."

Katharine Agnew, the doctor's wife, called the demonstration "very disturbing."

"It scared me," said Katharine, who heard the chanting from inside the home.

She works across the street from Hoag at her husband's office and said doctors objected to Hoag being deceptive with physicians about providing women's healthcare. She said the issue with them isn't one of abortion rights.

"It's a community hospital," Katharine Agnew said. "What's in community that's taking women's rights away?"

She said her husband's office typically performed abortions for nonviable fetuses with abnormalities like a missing brain or limb.

"It's not something we take lightly. We take lots and lots of time talking with the people" who are choosing to have an abortion, said Katharine Agnew, a mother of 10 children.

Durnian said the neighborhood stands behind Richard Agnew, who she said has delivered countless babies at Hoag over more than four decades.

"We love Dr. Agnew, we support Dr. Agnew," she said. "If he allows patients to make their own choices, he should be able to do that."

Katherine said she first spotted protest banners with her husband's name on them outside his office earlier this week. She was unaware of any other area doctors who may have received similar backlash.

Richard Jr. said he hosed off some of the messages after demonstrators left Thursday night and by about 11 a.m. Friday, city workers had rinsed off the rest.

Several hundred demonstrators rallied outside Hoag Hospital on June 20 in support and in protest of a decision by the Hoag Board of Directors to stop performing elective abortions that went into effect at the beginning of May.

Hoag officials have maintained that the decision resulted from low demand for the service and did not stem from the hospital's recent affiliation with St. Joseph Health.

Documents and interviews with hospital administrators have since shown that Hoag's elimination of elective abortions was a precondition of the deal, to bring Hoag in line with St. Joseph's "statement of common values," which prohibits the procedures.

Obstetricians and gynecologists have said they felt misled since they had been reassured before the affiliation that services — especially ones related to women's reproductive health — would not change.

The California attorney general's office, which approved the affiliation deal, is also conducting an investigation into the accuracy of Hoag's reports that it performed fewer than 100 elective abortions last year, and whether the hospital is doing enough to ensure access to care.

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