Abortion clinic counseling: rhetoric vs. reality


test woman pregnant

Peter Korn spent a year observing abortions and interviewing patients at an abortion clinic for his book Lovejoy: A Year in the Life of an Abortion Clinic (New York: Atlantic Monthly Press, 1996). He was allowed to sit in on several counseling sessions with women considering abortion. He describes what he observed in his book.

Before I go on, I would like to quote from The Abortion Resource Handbook by K. Kaufmann (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1997). The Abortion Resource Handbook is a guide for women considering abortion, written by a pro-choice author. She walks her readers through the process of finding an abortion clinic, cautions them to avoid “fake clinics” (i.e. crisis pregnancy centers, which Kauffman accuses of dishonesty and underhanded tactics), and offers tips for hiding the pregnancy and subsequent abortion from family and friends who might try to intervene. She assures the reader that abortion clinics will offer thorough and unbiased counseling and that if a woman is considering an abortion, they are the best places to get information. The author states:

…counseling and other services at pro-choice clinics are nondirective and nonjudgmental. Doctors, nurses, and counselors won’t try to talk you into anything you don’t want to do- either terminating a pregnancy or continuing it. They won’t try to make you feel ashamed or guilty about being pregnant. Instead, they will give you information on your options, talk with you about your feelings, and encourage you to choose the course of action that is best for you. (pg. 2)

I would like to contrast this with what Korn observed in the clinic where he did his research. Now, having read Korn’s book, I can say that I believe that it is not written as an attack on abortion or abortion rights. The author makes no pro-life statements in the book. There does not seem to be any pro-life bias; he simply describes what he witnessed. If anything, he seemed to be overly sympathetic towards the clinic workers.

At any rate, he described two counseling sessions he sat in on with two different patients.

In the first session, a woman named Peggy sits with a clinic worker named Carye as the worker explains the procedure. Carye is telling her about how to prepare for her abortion. Korn says:

Peggy’s mind is off on a different track. ‘Is it true that at six weeks it has a heartbeat?’ Carye says nobody is sure exactly when the heart begins beating, and tries to deflect that concern. “This pregnancy and you are the same thing,” she adds, explaining to Peggy that prior to twenty-four weeks the fetus cannot survive outside her womb. (25)

The beating heart of an unborn baby can be heard with a fetal heart monitor or seen on an ultrasound screen in the first trimester. According to The Mayo Clinic “Pregnancy Week by Week” Timeline:

Just four weeks after conception, the neural tube along your baby’s back is closing and your baby’s heart is pumping blood.

Here you can see the image of an unborn baby’s heart working at four weeks and four days after conception. Scientists have known for decades when a baby’s heart started beating.

The clinic worker, rather than giving accurate information to the patient, answers evasively and tries to steer the subject away from the baby’s humanity. “The pregnancy [i.e., not the “the baby” or even “the fetus”] and you are the same thing.” Actually, the “pregnancy” and the mother are not the same thing. The baby has his or her own DNA, circulatory system, and developing organs. The goal of the clinic worker seems to be geared towards shifting Peggy’s view away from seeing her baby as a living being and toward convincing Peggy to accept the “it’s just part of your body” viewpoint that many abortion advocates share.

This is not unbiased counseling.

Peter Korn’s second example is even more blatant.

In this second passage, a young woman named Tiffany is being counseled by clinic worker Anneke. Tiffany is only a teenager. She is 14 weeks pregnant. Her baby’s heart has been beating for ten weeks. The baby’s arms, legs, fingers, and toes are fully developed. If Tiffany’s child is a girl, she has ovaries of her own. She has facial expressions and her own unique fingerprints. She can sigh, squint, suck her thumb, and taste.

Tiffany is reluctant to abort her baby. She tells Anneke she thinks she wants to have her child. Korn describes what the counselor says next:

“I’m not here to change your mind. I’m not here to force your opinion. But I’m sitting here seeing this beautiful young woman with her whole life ahead of her, and you have so many other things you can do right now. Why don’t you go ahead with your dreams and have kids later?” Tiffany had no answer so Anneke continued, “We’re always here for you.” … Before ending the session Anneke left Tiffany with some figures that she recently had learned from Carye: One in ten high school girls who become pregnant finish high school, and one in ten thousand girls who have babies during high school finish college. And a third statistic: Over 80 percent of the men in this country don’t pay their child support. “The statistics are stacked against you,” Anneke said. (25)

Reluctantly, Tiffany agrees to abort her baby. By this time, the baby’s father has arrived at the clinic to talk her out of the abortion. The clinic workers call the police and have him thrown out before he can see her.

Tiffany goes through with the procedure alone. The clinic makes another $400. Another baby is dead.

This is what is considered “nondirective” counseling. The rhetoric of pro-choice activists and the reality of abortion counseling are two different things.

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