WHAT ABOUT SUPPORT GROUPS?
The most obvious need for anyone who pays any attention to psychological health would be to set up emotional support groups for the doctors, nurses and counselors that work in abortion clinics. Discussing the problem is one of the most therapeutic ways of dealing with it. Talking with people who understand your problems well, because they have the same problems, is the best way. Failing that, talking with anyone who has a sympathetic ear can give some relief. This helps with an appreciation of the job, getting the priories straight, and helps with stress.
This is not a startling or innovative strategy. This technique is commonly proposed by practically anyone looking at the emotional reactions to doing abortions. This includes those people whose motivation for suggesting it is not really to help the providers but to keep them providing.
Workshops at the National Abortion Federation have shown the clear need for this, as the article in the American Medical News shows. Yet when I called to inquire, I found that NAF doesn't have any written materials on local emotional support groups, nor any indication that they get requests for such materials. They're unaware of any existence of such groups. The National Coalition of Abortion Providers also has no such materials, nor does the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League (NARAL). All the people at these places were very pleasant. All were clearly wanting to be helpful, and referred me on to each other. None of them found this to be an ordinary request.
Yet as far back as 1974, a scholarly article called "Professional staff reaction to abortion work" in the journal Social Casework had recommended this be done. "Social work tools, ranging from group sessions to consultation, can be applied in order to help other staff members to express and work through their negative emotional reactions. Some studies have attested to the positive result of group sessions with nursing personnel."
Charlotte Taft, the Dallas clinic director, had a lot to say on this subject. "We had a meeting a few months ago, we had a doctor coming in from another city, and I wanted to invite other doctors who do abortions, because he was talking about some technical things that I thought people would be interested in. Well, I was worried about even how to invite people without them getting freaked out, that they were going to be somehow -- identified as abortion providers. So how could you do any kind of communication that wouldn't make them feel all exposed? But some kind of networking, some kind of communication, it seems to me is critical. I don't know how to accomplish that."
With all the evidence that expressing the ambivalence and sharing the stress is a relief, it still seems to be avoided to a puzzling degree. Might that be because listening to the pain of others whose pain is the same as your own adds more distress than you can take?
Joy Davis comments, "If you really dwell on it, and talk about it all the time, then it gets more personal. It gets more real to you. You just don't talk about it, try not to think about it."
The pay of some employees at abortion clinics is remarkably low. Sometimes counselors are advertised for who are expected to have college degrees and are still paid not much more than minimum wage. This is true across the country, and there are three things that account for it: low prices, more money, and sex discrimination. Low prices are because of the effort to keep the procedure itself relatively inexpensive. Those people who believe that the poor need abortion desperately want to keep the price low for them, compared to medicine as a whole. Low prices mean more sales and more money comes in. The less employees are paid, the more profit. As for sex discrimination, counseling is almost entirely done by women, unlike the surgical procedure itself, which is overwhelmingly done by men.
The first reason is for those who believe themselves to be altruistic. The second reason is traditional among those who wish to make money. The third reason is also depressingly traditional.
In some clinics, there's more than just low prices involved. Joy Davis explains. "If he [Dr. Tucker] had somebody come and apply for a job whose husband was a big hot shot that made a lot of money, then he didn't want her working for him. But if they were single, and had children, that's the one he wanted. He could control them. And he controlled me probably most of all. I had two children. I had a son that had severe problems. I had a fifteen year old son that was on drugs. He was under a lot of psychiatric care, and my insurance wouldn't cover him. And I was putting him into drug rehabs, and my insurance wouldn't cover that, so I was having to pay for all of that. And he preyed on that. Because when I started getting into such a financial problem with my son's medical care, that's when he started making all the demands on me. That's when he really started pushing on me hard, to change records and to treat patients, and to be a doctor and not get paid a doctor's wage. And it wasn't just me. He did that to a lot of people."
The woman who worked for the doctor in Louisiana reports this as well. "At the time, I needed a job. I'm a single mom with three children. I was hired as a receptionist. And they, so-called, 'promoted' me to doing the urine tests and the recovery room. I do know of one girl who was a receptionist, and she became a medical assistant all of a sudden. She had no training whatsoever. I mean, when I first started taking blood pressures in the recovery room, I didn't know what a normal blood pressure was. Nobody trained me for that. I would ask the assistant, what is normal, and what is not normal?. What [the doctor] does is he seeks out people that really need to make the money. Most of the women that do work there are single women with children."
Employment patterns vary from place to place. In spite of the financial troubles Ms. Davis referred to, she was actually well paid. Not all the exploitation of employees comes from low pay. She says: "I can refer to Dr. Tucker like I can an abused woman, and I've seen this with a lot of abused women, where their husbands abuse them and they make them think it's their fault, and they won't leave their husband, even though he beats them. I find that to be true with Dr. Tucker. He will abuse his employees, mentally, just put them through the wringer, then he'll turn around and do something very wonderful for them, to make them think he really cares about them. He was always doing things for me, that made me feel obligated to him."
On the other hand, she did finally leave. "There was a live birth case in Mississippi, where the patient was mistaken in weeks, and the baby was born alive, and she actually went into labor and delivered on her own, and the baby was alive, and the doctor came in and crushed the skullcap of the baby. And so I found out about it, and his lawyer went up there because the D.A. came in and picked up some of the girls and questioned them. So I told the lawyer -- he took some legal statements to these girls, swearing under oath that this incident had never happened. I told the lawyer, 'Don't make those girls sign that, because it really did happen. I know for a fact it happened.' He told Dr. Tucker to get me out of Mississippi and keep me out of Mississippi until that case was over, because I was emotional about it, and I was going to cause trouble. So, Dr Tucker -- we were driving at that particular time to Mississippi, and we were on the way home, and he pulled out a nine millimeter gun in the car, and started waving it in my face. And then he rolls down the window and he starts shooting at street lights and signs and houses. And he shot a sign, and he said, 'I want you to come back down here and I want you to see how big that hole is, if you cause me any more trouble. This is how big a hole this gun will make.'
"So I did go back down the next day to look at the sign, but I took pictures of it, and I was accompanied by law enforcement.
"That's just the kind of man he was. He had threatened to kill me, and since then he's made several more threats. That's what made me quit."
The woman who worked with the Louisiana doctor has not been named throughout this book because she asked that she not be. She's afraid of him even after leaving his employ. "Nobody ever wanted to take steps to do anything about it [the fetal remains left around in rubber gloves] because they were afraid if it was found out. To call OSHA, you have to give your name. If they would call, and report this to OSHA, they would have to give their name, and they would lose their jobs."
That mechanism explains why certain things are allowed to go on in these places. It is not, however, a very stable, long-lasting mechanism. Those who have already lost or left their jobs no longer have that motivation, and in any group of human beings there is always a danger that some will do what their consciences tell them.
History has proven that there can be problems with groups pressuring their members. While group pressure on what kinds of clothes to wear don't matter very much, group pressures in lynch mobs, dictatorships and money worship can have devastating effects. Every group needs to watch out for this moral snag. All individuals need to watch out that their beliefs are not so filtered through a group as to be out of touch with reality.
"Groupthink" is a social psychology term for times when a group did something that individuals should know better than to do. Assumptions are made that are accepted because the group accepts them, not because they had any validity.
An example in the context of abortion clinics was the idea that swept abortion defenders in the 1980s, that they had found a way to rid the clinics of the picketers. The idea was to solicit their supporters to agree to donate a certain amount of money per picketer that showed up in a certain time period to a fund that would help pay for abortions for poor women who otherwise couldn't afford it. Thus, the picketers would be helping to pay for abortions by showing up. They surely wouldn't be able to stand this, and they would start leaving the clinics alone. This policy was put into effect in various parts of the country immediately without any checking to see what the response would be.
What was the response? Prolifers saw it as howlingly funny. It made a running joke for years. There was at least one case, in the Boulder Abortion Clinic in Colorado, where a picketer went charging into the clinic after completing her picketing for the day to demand that she get credit for having been there for the sake of that program.
There was never any possibility that any of them would take it seriously. If a person who supports abortion gives money for an abortion, then what does it matter? That's just money being shifted around within the abortion establishment.
The impact that program did have was to make one thing very clear indeed -- that picketing was a highly effective tactic. It could be quiet. It could be just one person. It was absolutely not a waste of time. Abortion defenders had just communicated something that picketers were, in fact, pleased to hear.
A much more grim example of groupthink comes from how the clinics treat incest victims. The group keeps telling you that, of all the times abortion is needed, rape and incest are the most compelling times. This belief is stated over and over, and accepted.
Ask any member of the public, "Who do you think it is that takes the pregnant incest victim to the abortion clinic?" Once it's put that way, everyone knows. Of course it will most likely be either the perpetrator, or someone close to the perpetrator, who has an interest in covering up the incest.
One such victim, just before turning 13, was sexually abused by her older brother and a college-age friend of the family. About three or four months after the abuse began, she was late for a period. Her brother took her to the local Planned Parenthood. "I had never been to a doctor without my mother, and I had never had a gynecological exam. The whole visit was terrifying. No one explained anything. No one asked who my 'partner' was, no one expressed any dismay, concern, or even interest that a 12-year-old girl needed a pregnancy test. I heard a lot about 'being responsible' and 'taking control of my body.' Someone gave me a handful of condoms on the way out. My older brother maintained a strong silence throughout the entire time--no one asked him a single question."
She not only got no help for being in abused, but was actually given information and condoms that communicated to her that the sexual activity she didn't want was to be prepared for rather than prevented.
She was told that her test was positive and that she was to come in the following Saturday morning. "The caller never used the word 'pregnant' or 'abortion.' I did not keep that appointment; my period started that evening."
As a young victim in clear need of information that the clinic didn't give her, she had to wait for her school to give it to her. "It was not until 3 years later that I discovered, in a high school biology class, that you cannot get pregnant from oral sexual contact. I also found out what intercourse was, and that I'd never had it."
Though the people at the clinic must have had the idea that they were giving her what she needed, she saw it another way. "I remember the feeling of horror that came over me as I realized I had been scheduled for an abortion. I remember trying to figure out who would have paid the bill (it must have been my brother), and wondering why I was such a horrible person that those people thought I should have an abortion.
"The sexual attitude often championed by Planned Parenthood is a serious factor in preventing the discovery of sexual abuse of young people. Had anyone shown even the least bit of disapproval or concern, I would have divulged the truth and begged for help.
"Remember who took me to Planned Parenthood -- an older brother with an urgent interest in my being aborted! Abortion on demand, no questions asked, makes it easier for incest and child abuse to continue. Abortion for incest victims sounds compassionate, but in practice it is simply another violent and deceptive tool in the hand of the abuser. Abortion defenders need to realize that while abortion may keep one of the results of incest and sexual abuse from seeing the light of day, it does absolutely nothing to protect a young girl from continued abuse, and in fact aids the abuser in his crime."
The remedy to the problem of groupthink is the "devil's advocate." Any group that has at least one individual inclined to point out to it what's wrong with what they're thinking is a group that stands a chance of avoiding this problem, or avoiding getting into it too deeply.
Just one individual thinking to go and ask the picketers what they thought of the threat to use their picketing to raise money would have brought back an answer that would have saved them a lot of wasted time. They probably would have found out that their proposal was actually counter-productive that way. Just one person probing into who brought in the 12-year-old and why, could bring an outpouring of information that could prevent a lot of abuse, or at least keep the clinic from being an accessory to the crime. If there are people looking for what's wrong with an idea, there's more likely to be someone who finds it.
Any group that discourages the "devil's advocates" among its members is letting itself in for trouble. When questioning is discouraged, so is being in touch with reality. And being in touch with reality is crucial to keeping any enterprise going.Return to Table of Contents