Dayna Solomon was heading out for a press conference this fall when her 10-year-old son asked where she was going. Solomon, a chatty creative who works in the fashion industry, had to pause before answering. The press conference was about a New York gynecologist who Solomon says sexually abused her—and who, before his license was revoked, had also delivered her son. She settled on telling him a toned-down version of the truth, that she was going to talk about a doctor who had behaved badly, before an idea came to her. “Do you want to get his name removed from your birth certificate?” she asked.
Under a New York City law that takes effect this month, parents whose doctors have had their medical licenses revoked can get the physician’s name taken off their children’s birth certificates. While the law applies to any kind of misconduct, it was inspired by patients like Solomon, who say they were sexually abused by their doctors.
According to the sponsor, City Councilmember Mark Levine, it is the first such law passed in any U.S. city. He said he’d heard from nearly 50 survivors of sexual abuse during the legislative process, and he expects many more to come. "Once survivors realize they have this right, I think many more will come forward,” he said.
Several of those survivors were patients of Solomon’s doctor, Robert Hadden, who has been accused of sexually harassing or assaulting more than 25 patients. According to court documents, the Columbia-affiliated doctor was accused of everything from making inappropriate comments to putting his tongue on patients’ vaginas. He was indicted in 2014 on nine different counts of sexual misconduct, but after cutting a deal and pleading guilty to a single felony count of third-degree criminal sexual act and misdemeanor forcible touching, he served no time in jail and was allowed to register as the lowest level of sex offender.
A former patient of Hadden, Marissa Hoeschetter, was the first to advocate for the new law. She says she got the idea when she pulled out her daughters’ birth certificates to register them for kindergarten and saw his name there, under “attendant at birth.” She felt strongly that he not be allowed to stay in that position of privilege.
“[The fact that] his hands were the first in the entire universe to touch my children is something that is deeply sad for me and not something I could change, so I wanted to get his name off of this document,” she told The Daily Beast.
“I did not think it would become so complicated,” she added, “but like so many things, it became a battle.”
That was five years ago. In the following weeks, Hoeschetter said, she reached out to the New York City Health Department for help, but received no response. She says she spent the better part of two years going back and forth with the agency before she finally learned that she would need a court order to remove the name. Even then, Hoeschetter wasn’t sure she would prevail: City policy said court orders could only be used to correct factual errors, such as misspellings.
Hoeschetter reached out to Levine’s office for assistance. At the time, Levine says, he was surprised to hear that the change couldn’t be made administratively. He had just helped pass a law allowing New Yorkers to change the gender marker on their birth certificate. He didn’t understand why removing an unlicensed doctor’s name should be more difficult. “I was shocked to learn of the inflexibility in the law on an issue that seems to be quite common sense,” he said. “So we resolved to fix it by changing the law.”
But changing the law would not be easy. After hearing very little from Mayor Bill de Blasio’s team on the proposal, Levine was shocked when administration came out against the bill. At hearing in February, Gretchen Van Wye, the assistant commissioner of the Bureau of Vital Statistics, said the agency was willing to work with the Council on the issue, but that they were concerned about the “legal implications” of the change. Van Wye said that removing the doctor’s name could damage the integrity of the birth certificate and cause other jurisdictions not to respect it.
Levine was flabbergasted. “It was probably one of the most astounding moments in any hearing I’ve ever chaired,” he said.
Levine and Hoeschetter went back to an advocacy campaign, lobbying Council members one-on-one. Eventually, even the Health Department came around, and the bill passed unanimously. Hoeschetter brought her daughters to the signing ceremony.
The women making the change know that it is largely symbolic; it will not result in their doctors serving more jail time or take away the pain of what happened. But for many, it is a rare victory over a system they believe is rigged against them. For Hadden survivors especially, who felt cheated by his plea deal, removing his name from their birth certificates feels like the most justice they have received.
"So much of my pregnancy and birth and all that is a negative thing for me, and it's ruined so I'm sort of trying to reclaim a part of that, and this a physical, tangible way to do that,” Hoeschetter said.
Other women said the change was primarily about their kids. They didn’t want their children to pull out their birth certificates for a big event—a new job, or a wedding—and be reminded of trauma. One alleged victim, who asked not to be named, said she was terrified for the day her 11-year-old daughter starts asking questions about her birth. “She’s the joy of my life,” she said. “I didn’t want to have anything [negative] associated with such a momentous occasion.”
Solomon, meanwhile, said her son has repeatedly asked her when they can have Hadden’s name removed. He recently told her he didn’t want any of his friends to see the name of the doctor who delivered him. She even set a calendar reminder on her phone for the day the law took effect: on Jan. 1 of this year.
Despite the sadness of the occasion, she said she is excited to show her son when the change is made. “I think it shows an evaluation in our society that we’re able to do that,” she said.