Pro-choice former clinic worker: care at clinic was “rushed and inadequate”

In the book Abortion under Attack: Women on the Challenges Facing Choice, which was released in 2006, pro-choice writer Jenny Higgins says some disturbing things about an abortion clinic where she had once worked.

Jenny Higgins was pro-choice when she wrote her essay for the book that was edited by Krista Jacob.  To my knowledge, Higgins still holds a pro-choice viewpoint. But she criticized the clinic where she worked with women seeking abortions.

Pro-lifers have long maintained that counseling at abortion clinics tends to be woefully inadequate. Live Action published an article about misleading and biased abortion counseling at clinics here. Higgins does not discuss whether her clinic’s counseling was biased; rather, she says there was no time to have any real counseling at the clinic at all:

The underfunded structure of services at the clinics meant that I rarely had the time or resources to give women the clinical or psychological care they needed or deserved. Counseling sessions were strictly time constrained, sometimes allowing only 5 minutes per patient.

It’s hard to imagine that a patient’s needs could be served by a five-minute counseling session.

In a survey of postabortion women conducted by psychologist David Reardon, only 40 to 60% of abortion seeking women surveyed were certain of their decision to have an abortion when they arrived at the clinic. It’s doubtful that any of these women would’ve been able to explore their decision in any depth with only 5 minutes of counseling. In addition, the survey showed that:

  • 52 to 71% felt their questions to their abortion counselors were inadequately answered, sidestepped, or trivialized
  • 90% said they were not given enough information to make an informed decision
  • 5% reported that they were encouraged to ask questions

It seems that Jenny Higgins’ essay only verifies what these postabortion women said about the deficiencies of abortion clinic counseling. But there’s more. Higgins says:

I had to rush women out of the procedure room within minutes – sometimes seconds – of their termination so that we could quickly prep the room for the next patient. This hustle meant another missed chance to provide follow-up counseling, or assistance to help these women avoid future unintended pregnancies.

Why were the women rushed through their abortions? Couldn’t the clinic just schedule fewer abortions every day and give women more time to recover from their surgeries? There is only one logical motive for trying to cram in as many patients as possible during the clinics operating hours – more abortions meant more profit for the clinic.

Rushing women through their abortions and performing them like an assembly line, one after the other, increased clinic revenue. Put simply, the more abortions the clinic performs, the more money the clinic makes.  Although Higgins does not admit that this is the motive behind hustling women in an out of operating room, it is the only logical explanation. The clinic could easily have slowed down and taken more time with each patient. But that would have cut into profits.

Higgins also talks about the quality of medical care at the clinic:

Also, I was disillusioned by the general dilapidation of the clinic, the dated medical equipment, the revolving door of staff, and other indications of a clinical setting with inadequate resources. Instead of serving as a reproductive rights midwife of sorts, helping women realize their own self-efficacy, I felt like I was forced to provide rushed and inadequate care, which, by way of shoddy counseling, may have been contributing directly to women’s poor contraceptive adherence in the future.

She admits that the clinic provided “rushed and inadequate care.” Hardly an endorsement of her former workplace. She also says:

In a second challenge to my previously held beliefs, clinic work forced me to face the reality of abortion as a real human calamity. It was hard to ignore abortion’s underbelly of loss when so many patients exhibited deep and, at times, almost bottomless sadness, distress, or anxiety. Even though these women were trying to make the best decision for themselves, such certainty of choice couldn’t entirely remove the psychological injury.

Abortion is traumatic. Higgins was forced to encounter the human trauma of abortion every day, and although it did not make a rethink her pro-choice stand, she says it “did diminish the whole abortion as an empowerment model I had held so dear.” Abortion is not “empowering” – it is an act that inflicts “psychological injury.”

Studies on post-abortion women bear this out. Two studies showed that suicide rate for women who have abortions is 6 to 7 times greater than that of women who have not aborted.  For teenagers, the risk is 10 times greater. Researchers in another study, one led by pro-choice professor David M Ferguson, found that women who had abortions were twice as likely to experience major depression than women who had been pregnant, and 35% more likely to experience depression than women who carried their pregnancies to term. Ferguson, who had been a strong supporter of abortion before the study and did not repudiate his pro-choice beliefs afterwards, nevertheless said:

I remain pro-choice. I am not religious. I am an atheist and a rationalist. The findings did surprise me, but the results appear to be very robust because they persist across a series of disorders and a series of ages.

Abortion is a traumatic life event; that is, it involves loss, it involves grief, it involves difficulties. And the trauma may, in fact, predispose people to having mental illness.

Other studies have shown an increase in psychiatric hospitalizations, sleep disorders, eating disorders, substance abuse, and subsequent child abuse among women who have had abortions.

After working with abortion on a daily basis, Jenny Higgins was forced to reevaluate her views. Her depiction of working at the clinic has more in common with the claims of pro-lifers than pro-choice propaganda put forth by abortion-rights organizations.

Source: Jenny Higgins “Sex, Unintended Pregnancy, and Poverty: One Woman’s Evolution from “Choice” to Reproductive Justice” in Krista Jacob. Abortion under Attack: Women on the Challenges Facing Choice (Emeryville, CA: Seal Press, 2006) 34 to 35

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