Resurrection Medical Center, Chicago’s largest Catholic hospital, is working with anti-abortion protesters to persuade women already in the process of undergoing a second trimester abortion to halt the procedure. Second trimester abortions are often multi-day procedures that typically begin with the insertion of laminaria “tents” (bundles of seaweed) to soften and dilate the cervix. Many women are sent home overnight to let the laminaria do their thing. When they leave the clinic, they are approached by “sidewalk counselors” affiliated with Resurrection Medical Center who attempt to change their minds about completing the abortion and whisk them away to the hospital’s ER where doctors stand ready to remove the laminaria.
Since the “program” began last October, four women have been taken to Resurrection Medical Center by anti-choice activists and three abortions were halted. Some argue that Resurrection is simply offering women another opportunity to reconsider their choice, so what’s the problem?
For one thing, a pregnancy that’s continued after the cervix has already been softened and dilated by inserting laminaria automatically becomes a high-risk pregnancy. A 2009 report from NYU indicates that two out of four such cases resulted in premature deliveries and dead babies. When a wanted pregnancy goes wrong, it’s a devastating experience, even if nothing you did triggered the miscarriage or premature delivery. I can only imagine what a woman goes through who halted her abortion after being persuaded to carry the pregnancy to term, only to end up losing the baby. According to a physician at Resurrection, “the benefits of the procedure to the fetus far outweigh the risks.” What about the risks to the pregnant woman? As usual, she doesn’t figure into the equation.
Then there’s the issue of coercion. The decision to abort a pregnancy is a difficult one for many women. Indeed, one reason a woman may have waited until the beginning of the second trimester to arrange for an abortion is that she was hoping and praying that something in her life would change, enabling her to have the baby. That “something” could be her financial situation, or her health, or a partner who doesn’t want children, or a relationship that’s abusive, or any of a number of other factors. If things were different, she would want to have this baby. But since they’re not, she has decided, after weeks or even months of deliberation, that abortion is her best option.
In such a scenario, a “sidewalk counselor” may succeed in guilting the woman into “aborting her abortion.” But then what? If having a baby isn’t a viable option in her situation, that won’t suddenly have changed. And on top of that she’s now dealing with a high-risk pregnancy. Resurrection Medical Center isn’t offering financial assistance for women who can’t afford a baby, or free childcare, or help getting out of an abusive relationship. All they care about is stopping abortions.
Of the four women brought to Resurrection’s ER by anti-choice activists, only three had the laminaria removed. The fourth woman told the hospital staff that she was pressured by the “sidewalk counselor” and wanted to continue her abortion. And yet she felt compelled to accompany the “counselor” to the hospital, indicating just how manipulative some of these individuals are. While most of the women approached by anti-choice activists won’t be deterred from going through with their abortions, these attempts at emotional manipulation serve to make an already difficult decision even more difficult. Which I guess is the point.
I realize it’s a revolutionary concept, but how about trusting women to make the right decision for their situation? And instead of blaming women with very limited options for choosing abortion, how about expanding women’s options? That would prevent far more abortions than “sidewalk counseling,” forcing women to view ultrasounds, and all the other manipulation and coercion attempts put together.