Pro-lif­ers urge clinic work­ers to quit Don’t go to prison like Ker­mit Gos­nell, cam­paigns sug­gest

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - BY CH­ERYL WETZSTEIN

The bill­boards, placed promi­nently near Delaware’s abor­tion clin­ics, say it all: “Don’t Let Your Job Put You In Prison.”

Spurred by the mur­der trial of abor­tion­ist Ker­mit Gos­nell — which landed him and sev­eral of his Philadel­phia clinic em­ploy­ees in prison — pro-life ac­tivists are ex­pand­ing their bat­tle to curb the prac­tice by ca­jol­ing, be­seech­ing or just plain scar­ing abor­tion clinic work­ers into leav­ing their jobs.

While much of the na­tion’s long-run­ning bat­tle over abor­tion rights has been fought in courts and leg­is­la­tures, pro-life ad­vo­cates think that tar­get­ing the work­force that staffs the na­tion’s abor­tion clin­ics could prove equally po­tent in the long run.

“We’ve had a lot of suc­cess with clinic work­ers in the past,” said Mark Crutcher, pres­i­dent of Life Dy­nam­ics Inc., which as­sists in bill­board and other cam­paigns. The hor­rific rev­e­la­tions of un­san­i­tary and un­safe prac­tices at the Gos­nell clinic has only fu­eled the cam­paign.

The post-Gos­nell mes­sage to work­ers gets “real sim­ple,” Mr. Crutcher said: “You are in a po­si­tion where you can be a wit­ness. Or you can be a de­fen­dant.”

Abor­tion clinic di­rec­tors dis­miss th­ese tac­tics as part of a failed strat­egy to curb abor­tion rights by tar­get­ing in­dus­try work­ers.

Side­walk pro­test­ers “are part of the scenery. … They’re there, we ig­nore them,” said Chrisse France, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of Preterm abor­tion clinic in Cleve­land.

“When we see those fliers, it’s like, ‘ Pfft, give me a break,’” said Tammi Krom­e­naker, di­rec­tor of Red River Women’s Clinic in Fargo, N.D., the state’s only abor­tion clinic.

No one works in an abor­tion clinic in North Dakota with­out a deep com­mit­ment, Ms. Krom­e­naker said, “so I don’t see any of our staff be­ing vul­ner­a­ble at all.”

How­ever, an or­ga­ni­za­tion led by for­mer abor­tion clinic di­rec­tor Abby John­son said it al­ready has helped 85 work­ers exit the abor­tion in­dus­try.

“We are there to say there are other op­tions out there,” said Ms. John­son, who founded And Then There Were None in 2012.

The mes­sage of her non­profit min­istry is, “No abor­tion clinic work­ers, no abor­tion clin­ics, no abor­tions. It starts with the work­ers.”

Scant data

Hard data about abor­tion clinic work­ers — com­ing or go­ing — are hard to come by.

Planned Par­ent­hood Fed­er­a­tion of Amer­ica re­ports that it em­ploys 25,000 staff and vol­un­teers at its 750 health clin­ics, which in­clude clin­ics that do not pro­vide abor­tions. The Guttmacher In­sti­tute doesn’t count clinic staff, a spokes­woman said, but tal­lies 1,793 abor­tion providers, in­clud­ing the Planned Par­ent­hood clin­ics, in­de­pen­dent clin­ics, hos­pi­tals and physi­cian of­fices across the coun­try.

An abor­tion fa­cil­ity may have any­where from a few staff mem­bers to dozens, clinic di­rec­tors say.

Char­lotte Taft, di­rec­tor of the Abor­tion Care Net­work, es­ti­mates about 1,000 staff mem­bers in mem­ber clin­ics.

If clinic em­ploy­ment data are soft, fig­ur­ing how many clinic work­ers have left their jobs for any rea­son is even more of a guess­ing game. In ad­di­tion to Ms. John­son’s num­bers, there is ev­i­dence of clinic work­ers leav­ing the in­dus­try from the So­ci­ety of Cen­tu­ri­ons of Amer­ica, which reg­u­larly hosts “heal­ing” re­treats for for­mer clinic work­ers.

How­ever, Cen­tu­rion gath­er­ings are in­tended to be small and per­sonal, and the two work­shops held this year had fewer than 20 for­mer clinic work­ers, said workshop lead­ers the Rev. Frank Pavone and the Rev. Terry Gense­mer.

Why leave?

Un­de­terred by an ap­par­ently small de­fec­tion rate, pas­tors and pro-life ac­tivists have long homed in on dis­il­lu­sioned abor­tion clinic work­ers, in­clud­ing doc­tors, ad­min­is­tra­tors, sec­re­taries, nurses, tech­ni­cians and clinic guards.

Yes, some work­ers left “un­der their own steam,” but oth­ers were helped along “by what might be called tug­boats in hu­man form,” Mary Mee­han wrote in a 2,000-word ar­ti­cle in Hu­man Life Re­view called “The Ex-Abor­tion­ists: Why They Quit.”

Pro-life ac­tivists say the grisly daily as­pects of abor­tion are what pro­pel work­ers out the door.

Many peo­ple take clinic jobs for the pay­checks, and they may not even “be­lieve” in abor­tion. But over time, they can find them­selves “work­ing tech” — as­sist­ing the abor­tion­ist in the exam room or “piec­ing to­gether the pieces of the baby af­ter an abor­tion,” said Ms. John­son, who for years ran a Planned Par­ent­hood clinic in Texas un­til she had a dra­matic change of heart af­ter par­tic­i­pat­ing in the abor­tion of a 13-week-old fe­tus.

“That’s why they call us,” she said. The work­ers say they were hired to help in the front of­fice, but now have been called to the back­rooms to keep their jobs, and they find they “can’t do it any­more,” said Ms. John­son, who told her own story in a 2010 book called “Un­planned.” Some peo­ple leave af­ter a di­vine epiphany. As a 19-year-old col­lege stu­dent, Dr. Bev­erly McMil­lan said she left the Catholic Church, em­braced sec­u­lar hu­man­ism and be­came an abor­tion­ist. She opened the first abor­tion clinic in Mis­sis­sippi in 1975.

But then the day came when “I re­al­ized I was look­ing at what I was do­ing … and an im­mense sad­ness came over me,” she told an au­di­ence at Our Lady’s Center in El­li­cott City, Md., in Septem­ber.

“I thought to my­self, five min­utes ago, this [tiny arm] was at­tached to a child. What am I do­ing?” said Dr. McMil­lan, who has re­turned to the Catholic Church and is now a pro-life speaker.

Tested loy­al­ties

Abor­tion clinic di­rec­tors counter that their staffs are ex­traor­di­nar­ily loyal to abor­tion care and can’t be “en­ticed” to leave.

“I’ve said for all th­ese 40 years: This is not a job. This is a call­ing,” said Ms. Taft, whose net­work rep­re­sents more than 70 in­de­pen­dent abor­tion clin­ics.

“Most of the clin­ics I know of are in busi­ness be­cause they care about women,” said Ms. Taft, who started as a clinic coun­selor in 1975 and ran a clinic for 17 years.

“So if you have a clinic that is pro­vid­ing abor­tion ser­vices be­cause of that deep care for women, their hir­ing and their train­ing likely re­flects those val­ues,” she said. In her per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ence, she said, clinic staff met reg­u­larly and talked “to make sure that the staff felt good about the work we were do­ing.”

“Peo­ple aren’t leav­ing. I know if you ask any of our [45-mem­ber] staff, they’ll say, ‘We love the work that we do,’” said Ms. France, who runs the largest in­de­pen­dent clinic in Ohio.

How­ever, it’s not un­com­mon for young women to “come into this work right out of col­lege and then leave in a few years,” she said. Th­ese women “want to change the world,” but can see that “they’re not go­ing to get rich do­ing this kind of work,” so they go back to school to be­come so­cial work­ers, med­i­cal pro­fes­sion­als or lawyers.

Many of th­ese young women look back on their time at Preterm with pride, Ms. France said. “They strongly

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Bill­boards tar­get­ing clinic work­ers are part of the lat­est cam­paign to curb abor­tions. The mes­sages aim to in­still fear that par­tic­i­pants of abor­tions may be break­ing the law and may be held ac­count­able in court.

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