The majority of abortions in America today are performed at standalone clinics rather than in doctor's offices. And that may be scaring lots of women off.
Protesters outside late-term abortion provider Dr. LeRoy Carhart's clinic in Germantown, Md.
(AP / Patrick Semansky)
Samantha had already lost custody of her two older children, and she had been bringing her one-year-old daughter to Dr. Linda Prine's New York office with marks "that looked suspiciously like burns." Then, said Prine in a speech Monday accepting an award from the group Physicians for Reproductive Choice and Health, Samantha became pregnant and wanted an abortion. Prine scheduled the procedure at a nearby Planned Parenthood, but Samantha never showed up. The reason: "she just couldn’t go to an abortion clinic." Providers say it's a common phenomenon: women who want abortions, but can't face the environment of a standalone abortion clinic. Some of them, like Samantha, don't end up getting abortions at all.
In 2000, 93 percent of abortions in the US took place in standalone clinics — while that percentage may have edged down since then, it's still the vast majority. And abortion clinics, as the group Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health (ANSIRH) puts it, "have a PR problem." A 2011 study by ANSIRH notes that pop culture often portrays them as "lonely, depressing places devoid of compassion or human contact."
And of course, patients who visit abortion clinics face very real concerns. Of 41 women interviewed in the study, 8 cited the presence of protesters as negative or traumatic — one called them “the most disturbing part of the whole experience" and said she was afraid they would become violent. Prine's patient Samantha also said the fear of protesters was what kept her away from the Planned Parenthood clinic.
Dr. Linda Prine accepting the William K. Rashbaum, MD Abortion Provider award from Physicians for Reproductive Choice and Health.
Women in the ANSIRH study also said that some procedures clinics took to ensure their safety and privacy ended up making them feel worse about the procedure. One said that being buzzed in through a secure door made her uncomfortable: “I know they're trying to protect your rights and to keep everybody safe but it just made it even seem all the more like a secretive, shameful thing.” Another was afraid of the metal detectors at the clinic, saying, it felt “like someone's going to come in and rob you.”
Dr. Margaret Kini, a Texas abortion provider honored by Physicians for Reproductive Choice and Health Monday night, told BuzzFeed she sees patients who are afraid to go to abortion clinics "all the time." She said that in addition to fear of protesters, patients worry that clinics may be unsafe or illegitimate — being "sent out" to a location away from their regular doctors feels "secretive" and scary to them. She mentioned a physician friend whose fetus had an abnormality and who sought abortion at a local clinic — immediately afterwards, she said she had a good experience. A year later, though, she had a non-viable pregnancy and was able to have a termination at her ob-gyn's office. She told Kini, "thank God I don't have to go back to that terrible place." Even though she felt she'd gotten good care at the first clinic, "the thought of going to an abortion clinic again" was unbearable to her.