A few days ago, I wrote about the doctors who perform abortions.  Who are they?  What kind of degrees do they have?  What do they do inside the clinic?  That got me to thinking a little bit more about the other folks who run abortion clinics and so, in my never ending quest to educate the public on the provision of abortion services, I thought I would talk a little bit about the owners of the clinics. 

As one who had been in the field for many years, I will admit right up front that most of the early owners of the clinics around the country were a mysterious lot.  That’s probably because they never advertised who they were and where they lived.  They rarely gave interviews.  Indeed, in the early years, whenever I asked who owned a particular clinic, the staff people would be very secretive.  Over the years, however, that veil of secrecy started to break down to some extent.

For the most part, in the days right after abortion became legal, it was mostly men who owned the clinics.   While there may have been some altruism behind their setting up clinics, they were businessmen through and through.  Once abortion was legalized, they just went into certain, hospitable states and starting setting up their clinics.  Many of them established chains of abortion clinics.   One of the earliest and, ultimately, largest chain of clinics was established by Doctor Edward Allred in southern California.   At one point, he had a little over 20 clinics known as Family Planning Associates.  Doctor Allred, in addition to having these clinics, was also one of the biggest breeders of horses in the country and owned a racetrack in Los Angeles.  He was rarely seen and made a few controversial statements in his time, but I will say he had some of the most beautiful clinics in the country.   

These owners made millions of dollars because they had the few clinics that were operating and there was an incredible demand for the services.  But because they were somewhat “mysterious,” an image of them started to develop that was not too flattering.  Over the years, however, they started to “come out” a little.  Not sure why that happened but I do know that when I started visiting them when I traveled, for the most part I found that they were your average businessman who was just trying to make a living.  I also found, however, that they were somewhat dedicated to making abortion accessible to women and were not as cutthroat as I imagined they might be.  Oh, sure, I met some sleazeballs but, for the most part, they were just average people. 

Yes, there were some female owners in those days.  One woman, Merle Hoffman, founded “Choices” in Queens, New York, which ultimately became one of the largest abortion clinics in the country.  Merle continues to work at the clinic today.  There were also wonderful women like Renee Chelian, the owner of the Northland Family Planning Centers in Detroit, and Claire Keyes in Pittsburgh.  These women, understandably, had a slightly different approach to the provision of abortion services. 

There is also a group of clinics that technically have no owners.   They are the non-profit clinics.  For years, there was a chain of such clinics called the Feminist Women Health Centers, but they ultimately changed their name.   These clinics were run by a Board of Directors.  The Planned Parenthood clinics are all non-profits.

Today, as in any field, there is a new group of younger owners who are taking the mantle.  And most of them are women.  While I appreciate the male pioneers who stuck their necks out and established the first clinics, it’s comforting to me that there are more and more young women who are now leading the charge.