Investigative

Clinic worker pressures distraught woman to make quick abortion decision

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In book on postabortion regret by Melinda Tankard Reist , an Australian woman identified as Genevieve describes the “counseling” she received in an abortion clinic.  Torn between having her baby and having an abortion, Genevieve went to her appointment but ended up outside the abortion clinic door, sobbing. She describes a conversation she  had with a clinic worker:

I collapsed in sheer exhaustion. I told her that I had been outside for hours. I cried hysterically, curled over with my head in my hands on my knees. I said that “I feel that I’m depriving my child of life.” I stopped crying in disbelief when the counselor told me that if I was going to abort that I would have to do it right now. The counselor said, “Look, I’ll give you five minutes to think about it when I come back, I want your answer.” I couldn’t believe it. Now I was going into a state of panic and shock. I could now barely speak… The counselor glared at me, sighed a deep sigh, and impatiently said, “Look, they’re all waiting for you, you know…” They seemed angry at me. They were sick of me and in the end I weakly obeyed their commands.(1)

Giving a pregnant woman an ultimatum, forcing her to make a life-and-death decision before she is ready, seems extremely cruel. But clinics have a schedule they have to keep, and often don’t have time for ambivalent women. Wendy Simonds, a pro-choice feminist who I have quoted before, interviewed clinic workers in an American abortion clinic. She quotes one clinic worker, Greta, saying:

There are some women who are like “I don’t know what I want to do,” and the system is we assume women are totally clear in their decision the minute they walk in the door. If they’re not, we have to back up – And that’s challenging from a “workflow point of view.” (2)

So perhaps this impatient clinic worker was under pressure herself, trying to fit a certain number of abortions into a limited period of time. Several former clinic workers have told me that their clinics regularly overbooked because many women didn’t show up on the day of their appointments. On a busy day, keeping the machinery moving was of the utmost importance.

Former clinic director Abby Johnson also described how she pressured an ambivalent woman into making a decision: 

I remember that I was trying to get her out of my office. We had been talking for at least 45 minutes and that was way over my 15 minute maximum for “counseling.” I knew I must have a stack of charts waiting in my box outside. I finally pulled out the final card to hurry this thing along. I told her, “If you don’t have the abortion today, you won’t be able to come back to us for at least a week and it will be more expensive. You don’t want that, do you?”

Reluctantly she said that she was ready to go back for the abortion. Good. My job was done. Every line was signed and every box was checked.

Johnson doesn’t make it entirely clear if she wanted the woman specifically to choose abortion or just wanted to get her to make some decision and get out of the office and on her way as quickly as possible. But Carol Everett, another former clinic director, has admitted that her clinics pressured women to have abortions.

Former owner of two abortion clinics and administrator of four, Carol Everett noted: 

Our statistics clearly reflected that .  .  . the shorter the period of time a woman had to consider her abortion, the more likely she was to abort.

Because of this, Everett’s clinics tried to get women who called to come in for their abortions as soon as possible. They went to great pains to eliminate the time between the initial telephone call and the actual appointment.

Although we may never know the motives of the clinic worker who rushed Genevieve into her abortion that day, both Genevieve and her baby ended up becoming victims. Genevieve’s story, as well as the other references in this article, (not to mention hundreds upon hundreds of other testimonies by post-abortion women) show that abortion clinics cannot be trusted to give women thorough counseling before their abortions.

Laws that require abortion clinics to give accurate information on fetal development and abortion’s risks and then mandate a 24-hour waiting period can help solve this problem. Sidewalk counselors who approach women with respect and compassion could also make a vital difference in cases like Genevieve’s. Had Genevieve been approached by a pro-life sidewalk counselor while she was outside and offered real help, her story may have turned out very differently.

  1. Melinda Tankard Reist Giving Sorrow Words: Women’s Stories of Grief after Abortion (Springfield, IL: Acorn Books, 2007) 181-182
  2. Wendy Simonds. Abortion at Work: Ideology and Practice in a Feminist Clinic (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1996)  37
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