I would be remiss if I did comment on the case of Doctor Kermit Gosnell.

As many of you know, Doctor Gosnell performed abortions in the Philadelphia area for many years.  Then, in late 2011, he was indicted for, among other things, eight counts of murder.  In addition, several of his staff people, including his wife and sister in law, were also charged with assisting in botched abortions, practicing medicine without a license or covering up the actions of those who did.  One of them, Adrienne Moton, has already pleaded guilty to third-degree murder as well as conspiracy and other charges and is in jail.  Other staff people have also pleaded guilty and have testified at the trial.

In all my years at the National Coalition of Abortion Providers, I never heard of Doctor Gosnell.  And I surely don’t know if he is innocent or guilty of the charges.  Of course, if you read the latest reports from the pro-life media, he is clearly guilty of running a “chamber of horrors” even though the defense has not even presented its case.  While some of the testimony that has been presented so far appears rather damaging, I choose to actually let the judicial process play out because – dare I say it – I do believe that one is innocent until proven guilty.  Unlike my pro-life friends, who eschew the protections in the Constitution, I’ll wait to see what the jury has to say.

But I will add that the testimony so far has been rather shocking and, if he is found guilty, they should lock him up and throw away the key.

This case has put the pro-choice groups in a quandary.  First, there were some reports that a staff person with the National Abortion Federation actually examined his facility and recommended that he not be permitted into the organization.  But after that, he continued to perform abortions.   Then, Brenda Green, executive director of CHOICE, a nonprofit that connects the underinsured and uninsured with health services, said that she “tried to report complaints from clients, but the health department wouldn’t accept them from a third party. Instead, the patients had to fill out a daunting five-page form, available only in English, requiring them to reveal their identities upfront and be available to testify in Harrisburg.”  He was like a cockroach who could not be stamped out.

Unfortunately, many women considering an abortion don’t even know how to check out the doctors.   They often just decide who to go to based on the cost of the procedure and, like other medical services, if you are looking for the cheapest price, you may pay for it in more ways than one.  NAF does have a section on their website which tells women what to look for when choosing a clinic but how many people even know about NAF?  So, it does not surprise me that some women made their way to Doctor Gosnell.

But the tougher question is what do the pro-choice groups do if they know there is a “troublesome” doctor?  It’s hard to make allegations if you do not have very specific information but the information has to come from the women and they don’t want to even admit they had an abortion.  To be sure, one hears rumors but one has to be extremely careful lest one get sued for slander.  Indeed, years ago I was quoted in the New York Times suggesting that women not go to a certain doctor with clinics up the east coast and within two days I had a “cease and desist” letter from his attorney threatening to sue our organization and me personally.  I can tell you that a threat like that certainly makes you think about criticizing someone publicly.

The bottom line – and it’s a tough one – is that women have to learn to expect more and they need to speak up when they experience substandard care in an abortion facility (or any other medical facility).  Then the authorities need to react quickly and with certainty.  For years, we talked to numerous health authorities about that doctor on the east coast and while he lost his license in one state, he kept opening up clinics in other states.  To be sure, the pro-lifers will say that clinics need more regulations and this may come as a surprise but many clinics are not adverse to discussing well-intentioned and useful regulations.  But they will not cooperate when those regulations are designed solely to put a clinic out of business.

One final note about this case.  If the allegations are true, Doctor Gosnell is an aberration amongst abortion providers.  The vast, vast majority of women obtain abortions in comfortable and safe environments but, unfortunately, the media would rather focus on Doctor Gosnell than those who are merely offering safe abortion services to hundreds and thousands of women each year.

State Mandated Abortion Ultrasound

State Mandated Abortion Ultrasound

If the barrage of fundraising letters I am getting is any indication, there are a number of serious issues facing the pro-choice movement these days.  Battles are raging in just about every state legislature and every solicitation for money (do they ever write to us to just tell us how things are going?) has a common theme, which is access to abortion services are being restricted.

Whether or not requiring a woman to get an ultrasound before an abortion restricts her access to abortion is a question that I cannot answer at this time.  We’ll just have to wait and see.  But it is no secret that the number of abortion providers/abortion clinics has decreased over the years.  Of course, part of the reason why there are fewer abortion clinics is that the number of abortions has declined and an abortion clinic, like any other business, has to have a certain number of patients to pay the rent, buy supplies, pay staff, etc.   If the number of people using the facility decreases, that facility may be forced to close.  Indeed, in the ideal world, there would be no abortion facilities, right?

State Mandated Abortion Ultrasound

State Mandated Abortion Ultrasound

One thing that has always intrigued me when we talk about access to abortion is how our pro-choice friends bemoan the fact that fewer hospitals are performing abortions.  Well, I gotta tell you that if I were counseling a woman right now, I would tell her stay as far away as possible from any hospital if she was looking for an abortion.  Let me explain.

Abortion is a specialized form of medicine.  It’s not like going to your local orthopedic surgeon to get a lipoma removed.   In that case, you have your quick first meeting, the doc tells you it should be removed, you make your co-pay and you schedule the outpatient surgery.  Two weeks later, the lipoma is gone.  Wham bam, thank you ma’am.

GOP war on Birth Control

GOP war on Birth Control

Even though the surgery is just as simple as having a lipoma removed, a woman seeking an abortion has a lot more to deal with – as do the staff at the abortion clinic.  With variations on the theme, the women receive counseling about the abortion procedure, possible post abortion reactions and they may even delve into other more personal issues if the woman is so inclined.  Then they discuss forms of birth control that the woman might use to prevent her from coming back.  Of course, the patient might also have to deal with the possibility of anti-abortion picketers outside the facility and the stress that that might add to an already stressful situation.   If a woman has received the abortion pill, the staff is on call for the woman through that multi-day process.

Legislator's State of Misogyny

Legislator's State of Misogyny

So, abortion clinic staff and their doctors are used to dealing with women not just from the physical side but the emotional side.  There is even an organization – the National Abortion Federation – that hosts annual meetings where abortion doctors discuss the provision of abortion of abortion services and how to make the experience a more comfortable one for the woman.

Now, think about your last visit to a hospital.   Not very warm and fuzzy, wouldn’t you say?

And if you went in there for an abortion – assuming you found a hospital that does them – you would not be entering a comforting environment.  You surely would not receive any counseling about the procedure, no discussions about how to avoid an abortion in the future, no advice on birth control.  Even worse, you might be working with some staff people who are actually anti-abortion.  Yes, there are conscience clauses out there, but you always run the risk of getting a nurse who is pro-life, so you know they are not going to sit there and hold your hand during the procedure.  The only advantage to going to a hospital might be that there would be no protestors and you’d be in a big waiting room with others and no one would know why you are there.

But I would prefer to go to a place where there are experienced staff people who have dealt with the abortion issue from all angles – the medial and the emotional – than going into a sterile hospital where you’re basically on your own.  .

The average price for an abortion at an abortion clinic is about $350.  Believe me, it’s worth it.

Pro Life Abortion Lies

Pro Life Abortion Lies

I have always tended to trust people.  Don’t ask me why – it’s just part of my genetic makeup.  But when you are in the middle of the abortion “wars,” as I was for many years, trusting people can get you into a lot of trouble.

Sometime in the early part of 1993, I was at my desk in the offices of the National Coalition of Abortion Providers when I got a call from one of our doctors in Nevada.  “Hey Pat, what the hell is this Project Choice survey?  Should I respond?”

I had no idea what he was talking about, but soon learned how most of our doctors had received a “confidential” survey from a group called “Project Choice.”  The cover letter indicated that this group had been contacted by a foundation that was interested in helping protect abortion providers from violence and harassment, but before they would commit they wanted “evidence” that the violence and/or harassment was real.  So, the folks at Project Choice compiled an extensive mailing list of clinics and mailed out 961 surveys.  Ultimately, almost 285 were completed, a very high return rate of 30 percent.

Pro Life Abortion Life Dynamics' Lies

Pro Life Abortion Life Dynamics' Lies

After talking to the doctor, I called the phone number listed on the survey.  I was immediately connected to a woman named Lisa Nelson.  She was very personable, thrilled that a person from a pro-choice national organization had called because, as she put it, “some of the pro-choice groups we’ve talked to are very suspicious of who we are.”   Ah, but I was different.  I was thrilled that someone wanted to help our abortion doctors.  Lisa told me about the foundation and I told her I would love to help her out by urging our doctors to participate.

The survey was impressive.  It came in a package came with a self-addressed stamped envelope and when it was received, the participant received a call and a thank you note.  The survey was divided into four parts: Doctor’s Profile, Motivation, Social Environment, and Harassment and Violence.  Of course, we all focused on the “Harassment and Violence” section, anxious to provide them with a comprehensive picture of the terrorism that was taking place against abortion providers at the time.  While I was promoting the project, staff people at the National Abortion Federation were more suspect and, indeed, encouraged their members to not participate in the survey.  Always at loggerheads with NAF, I took the opposite course and told our members that I saw no problems with their filling out the survey.  Indeed, I visualized Project Choice getting that big foundation grant to help stem the violence and my being part of that press conference.

Pro Life Abortion Life Dynamics' Lies

Pro Life Abortion Life Dynamics' Lies

Lisa and I kept in touch over the next few weeks. She was very personable, a spry young pro-choice lass who was anxious to help out her “heroes” in the field of abortion.   We talked enthusiastically about the results she was getting that documented the violence and harassment against our doctors.  Meanwhile, I never paid any attention to the “Social Environment” section of the survey.

One day, when Lisa and I were just chatting it up, I asked her where she was going to college and she mentioned some university in Denton, Texas.  The name of the town sounded familiar and I asked my staff person if she had ever heard of it and she casually said “yeah, that’s where Life Dynamics is located.”   Life Dynamics was a notorious, super aggressive anti-abortion group headed up by a wacko named Mark Crutcher.  My stomach started to churn a bit.

I let it go for a few days, but ultimately picked up the phone and called the Life Dynamics office.

“Hello, Life Dynamics, can I help you?”

“Uh, yes, this is Pat Richards.  Could I speak to Lisa Nelson please?”

I found myself begging that she would say “I’m sorry, there is no one here by that name.”   Instead, she asked if she could put me on hold.  My blood pressure started to creep up.

“Well, hello, Pat.  So, you found me.”

I had to do everything to keep my lunch down.  Instead of the perky college student voice I had become familiar with, the voice was now downright sinister.  I had caught her to some extent (she could have ignored me but she took the call because the survey was already done).  But we both knew that I had been a totally idiot and you could tell she relished the moment.

I was at a loss for words but lamely spit out “Well, Lisa, I hope you’re happy.  You must be very proud of yourself.”

“Pat, this is a war and I’m a soldier of the Lord.”

I hung up, ran outside and, yes, lost my lunch.  When I got back to the office, we sent out an emergency fax telling our members that we had “exposed” Project Choice, hoping folks would forget that we had originally encouraged them to participate in the survey.  But, by that time, the surveys had been completed and mailed back.  Still, we didn’t panic because we couldn’t imagine what they would do with “evidence” that our doctors were being terrorized.

Within a few weeks, Life Dynamics had a press conference, reveling in the fact that they had pulled off this scam and, more important to them, revealing the answers to the questions.  They hardly said a work about harassment.  Instead, they focused on the Social Environment section of the survey.

The cited how sixty-five percent of the doctors said they felt ostracized because of their work.  Half of the doctors reported having problems keeping or recruiting staff because they did abortions.  Almost 40% of the doctors said that certain aspects of the abortion procedure caused then “concern.”   The strategy was to use the words of the abortion doctors themselves to prove how they were pariahs in the medical community.  From this, they concluded that “the moral concerns abortion providers have about performing abortions is an internal phenomenon brought on by the nature of the act itself, and are not directly related to anti-abortion activity.”

In addition, however, the answers to the “Harassment and Violence” section gave groups like Operation Rescue encouragement.  Even among providers who had not personally experienced harassment, over 20 percent said that such activity caused them to consider quitting.  Many of them said that this type of activity has had a negative impact on their family.  Then, they reported how the doctors reported feeling everything from anger to thoughts of suicide.  Some even admitted to drug use.  It was a green light for more terrorism and, indeed, the next few years were hell.

Cleverly, Life Dynamics used the “self-portrait” to paint an ugly picture of the world of abortion providers, to demonstrate that they were the “bottom feeders” of the medical world and that many of them did not feel good about their life and work.  Meanwhile, they sent a signal to other anti-abortion zealots that the harassment was working.

In the long run, who knows what the survey and the subsequent pronouncements actually accomplished?  Sure, it must have been a blast that day at the Life Dynamics office, the conversations and the high fives around the water cooler probably lasted for weeks.   The terrorism increased, but it’s impossible to say if it was a result of this project.

What did change, however, was this ugly episode only made me more cynical, more suspicious.

That’s the saddest part of this whole story.