Since my retreat from the abortion industry, my personal stance on the plethora of issues related to life and abortion has evolved. The only thing that I was certain of initially was that I wanted nothing more to do with facilitating abortions. I wouldn’t have gone so far as to say that I believed abortion was absolutely wrong or that I felt that Roe v. Wade needed to be overturned. All I was convinced of that day was that I was personally done with abortion.
I hadn’t turned into a proponent for abortion on demand in a day, and my stance that every human life is sacred and deserves respect and protection didn’t burgeon overnight either. Looking back, I realize that I had to undergo a deprogramming of sorts. For literally every objection to abortion, I had been trained to spit out Planned Parenthood’s rebuttals point for point.
Although far less common than the rape and incest argument, ectopic pregnancies were something that we Planned Parenthood employees were coached to bring up when someone had objections to abortion—especially religious objections. If life begins at conception, and the pro-life movement seeks to protect life from conception to natural death, what then did we have to say about women unfortunate enough to experience an ectopic pregnancy?
An ectopic pregnancy occurs when a fertilized egg implants outside of the uterus, usually in one of the fallopian tubes. It is extremely dangerous, and I have come to realize that Planned Parenthood is not the place to seek assistance if you find yourself in this or any type of crisis pregnancy.
A college girl I’ll call Jennifer is a perfect example of a reason why. Jennifer was a pretty blonde girl with an athletic build. She could easily have been the poster girl for any of the sororities at our local university. She came to the clinic with her mother, who was also pretty and appeared to take care of herself. They had an air of affluence. Jennifer’s paperwork stated that she was presenting for an abortion. Judging by the date of her last menstrual period, we estimated that Jennifer was approximately eight weeks pregnant. However, when we performed an ultrasound, nothing showed up. Her uterus was empty. We then did a urine pregnancy test, which was positive.
We honestly didn’t have protocol for this type of scenario. We probably could have done some further testing; however, that day, we were slammed. The instant that Jennifer had left the room to take her urine test, the nurse plopped another young girl waiting for an abortion in the room. And there were a growing number of girls on the schedule who needed the room and access to the ultrasound machine.
In short, we were simply too busy that day to worry about Jennifer’s health and safety. After issuing a brief, yet stern, warning that she immediately present to the emergency room if she experienced severe cramping, we sent a relieved Jennifer and her mother on their way and went about the business of terminating the baby in the next girl’s womb.
The following day, I’d barely set my purse on my desk when the phone started to ring. The woman on the other end was irate—so much so, that I failed to understand a single word she said. I held the phone a few inches from my ear and permitted her to rant for a few minutes. When she finally seemed to be slowing a bit, I interrupted.
“Ma’am, I’m having a really difficult time understanding you. If you would please calm down and speak a little slower, I’ll do the best I can to help you,” I said, my tone unquestionably patronizing. I had no clue who she was, but I certainly didn’t enjoy being berated, especially first thing in the morning.
“It’s a little late now,” she retorted. “But you could’ve helped us yesterday instead of sending my daughter away to hemorrhage and die.”
It finally registered who was on the other end of the phone. For a moment, I was speechless. I wish I could have said that I had been plagued by thoughts of Jennifer, that I had lain awake tossing and turning, obsessing about the pretty sorority girl that I had sent away. The ugly truth of the matter was that she hadn’t crossed my mind since she had left the clinic the day before.
“I should call the paper,” Jennifer’s mother threatened. “People need to know about your negligence.”
This certainly wasn’t the first time that I’d been confronted by a patient or family member threatening to go to the media. More often than not, these sorts of threats were not taken seriously. In the heat of the moment people liked to talk tough, but when it came down to the brass tacks, most people would rather that the details of their crisis pregnancy or abortion not be local news.
No one could argue that Jennifer didn’t have a rock solid case against us. Shortly after leaving our clinic, the undetected ectopic pregnancy ruptured, causing her to bleed internally. If her quick-thinking mother hadn’t rushed her to the hospital in time for emergency surgery, our laissez-faire approach to her health could have proven fatal for Jennifer.
At that point, I was still deceived into believing that Planned Parenthood was well-intentioned and existed to “provide comprehensive reproductive and complementary health-care services in settings which preserve and protect the essential privacy and rights of each individual,” as the organization’s mission statement promised. So I was shocked when my supervisor refused to comprehend the magnitude of our error.
I promised to have my supervisor contact her immediately. One of my roles at Planned Parenthood was to manage patient complaints, and I had heard it all, often from furious people using all manner of colorful language.
Other employees would often seek me out when there was an issue because they thought of me as “unflappable” or “levelheaded,” but this call left me shaken to my core. Because of our negligence, because we were too busy, a beautiful young woman could have lost her life.
“Don’t worry about it,” my supervisor replied with a wave of her hand. “Forward me her chart, and I’ll make sure it gets to the affiliate’s abortion medical board for review.”
Her nonchalance caught me off guard. I started to backpedal. Surely if she had heard me correctly, she would grasp the gravity of the situation. I stammered, trying to get the facts out again but was cut off.
“I understand. It’ll be taken care of,” she assured me. The abortion medical board. It had a nice ring to it. I felt more comfortable knowing that they existed. An objective system of checks and balances in place to ensure that gross negligence or incompetency were never tolerated; that patient safety and privacy remained uncompromised; that the power the doctors and medical staff wielded wasn’t abused. In retrospect, I am astounded by my naivete.
As much as I hadn’t given her a second thought after she had initially left the clinic, I couldn’t force my mind to concentrate on anything but Jennifer for the next week and a half. Thoughts of her permeated every aspect of my life. My heart leapt into my throat every time a call was transferred to my line. I was hypervigilant with patients, checking and double-checking their test results before they were allowed to exit the clinic. I wasn’t going to risk another woman falling through the cracks the way that Jennifer had.
When my supervisor told me that the board had made a decision regarding Jennifer’s complaint, I was relieved. Exhausted by my vigilance, I was ready to put the whole business behind me. Clearly we couldn’t deny that we had erred, and that our lack of judgment had dearly cost a young woman. I braced myself for the bottom line.
“Please give her a call, tell her that this is what we are willing to offer for her inconvenience, and let her know that she can pick up her check after three o’clock on Friday,” she said.
She handed me the folder with the board’s findings, turned on her heels, and walked away. When I saw the amount they were offering to keep Jennifer quiet, I laughed out loud. Six hundred eighty dollars. There must be some kind of mistake. I mean, the poor girl could have died!
“This can’t be right,” I called after her, hoping that they had mistakenly left out a zero. Or two.
“It’s what the board decided,” she called over her shoulder. “And don’t forget to have her sign the nondisclosure agreement before you hand over the check.”
“You want me to call her?” I asked, but she had already turned the corner.
The fact that she had delegated the task of presenting the patient with such a paltry sum raised my ire. I stomped into my office and slammed the door.
The inequitable reparation offered to Jennifer for her harrowing ordeal forced the abortion industry’s dark underbelly into the light. Again, I had a choice to make.
I could examine the facts and acknowledge that we had provided substandard treatment to Jennifer and follow that line of thinking to its logical conclusion: abortion clinics existed solely to make money off of women in crisis. Or, I could choose to turn my back on the truth and once again embrace the lie that I had become so comfortable with. We were helping women who had nowhere else to turn. By standing with Planned Parenthood, I was an advocate for women everywhere who simply wanted to exercise their reproductive rights.
Perhaps it was my pride, or the fact that I simply wasn’t ready to replace the lies with the ugly truth. I chose to remain on the path of a career abortion worker. I took a few deep breaths and dialed the number listed in Jennifer’s chart. I steeled myself against the verbal assault that would surely come after Jennifer heard the amount that the board had decided that she was due. I swallowed hard as the phone began to ring. Jennifer’s mother answered.
The details flooded out. I knew I was speaking way too fast as I attempted to come across more matter-of-fact than apologetic. “A check for six hundred and eighty dollars is waiting at the front desk,” I said. “Jennifer will need to sign a paper stating that by accepting the money, she agrees not to discuss her experience at the clinic with anyone.”
I pulled the phone away from my ear and waited. I could hardly believe it when Jennifer’s mother sighed and calmly agreed to accompany Jennifer to the clinic the following Friday to pick up the check—which she did. I was stunned when she smiled and thanked me after I handed her the envelope. I sincerely would have preferred it if she had screamed and cursed at me. Her gratitude made me feel lower than an earthworm.
Oftentimes abortion advocates, or even hesitant fence-riding pro-lifers, throw out medical issues such as ectopic pregnancies as an objection to the crusade against the abortion industry. “Where would all of those poor women go for help with these issues if Planned Parenthood wasn’t there for them?” they ask. I think of Jennifer—of how in our haste to abort more children, we showed complete disregard for her health; I think of the dozens of places in our area that Jennifer could have gone and received superior care.
Ectopic pregnancy is a dangerous and unfortunate type of situation, and women deserve more than an abortion clinic to help them navigate through the difficulties of a health crisis or unplanned pregnancy, ectopic or otherwise. Those places are out there.
I have since left the abortion industry, and I now think it is a falsehood that abortion clinics serve underprivileged women. I tell people to do research and educate themselves about the alternatives available in their area. Few people know that no Planned Parenthood clinic offers mammograms. Not a one. Local health departments offer far more services for the poor and uninsured than any abortion clinic.
The abortion industry claims that they provide high-quality, affordable health care to women, men, and young people, and that they are often the only source of family planning for a large proportion of the women they serve.
For many years, I bought into that lie and made it my personal mission to disseminate this misinformation. I was confident that I was on the side of justice and equality for women. I was wrong. Sincerely wrong. Jennifer deserved better. Women deserve better.
This article has been excerpted from The Walls Are Talking: Former Abortion Clinic Workers Tell Their Stories.