News Abortion

Abortion on Women Who Aren’t Pregnant? Doctor Refutes Abby Johnson’s Claims

Robin Marty

Former Planned Parenthood employee Abby Johnson sent a written statement in support of Todd Akin's claim that abortion providers do abortions on women who aren't pregnant. She explains how it happens in an email interview. Her assertions are refuted by a medical doctor.

We have mentioned before that the claim that abortion providers do “abortions on women who aren’t even pregnant,” is a common talking point among the radical anti-choice movement. Recently, activist Abby Johnson came to Congressman Todd Akin’s defense when he repeated this claim, saying that as a clinic director in Texas that was exactly what she saw happen.

Via Buzzfeed:

“In support of Congressman Todd Akin, I can attest that when I served as director of Planned Parenthood in Bryan, Texas, we often scared women into getting services they did not need – including abortion – so we could collect the fees,” Johnson said in a statement released to BuzzFeed on Wednesday by Akin’s campaign. “This included women who were not pregnant and women who were in the process of miscarrying.

The statement continued, “Anyone that would attack Congressman Todd Akin for his factual comments on the House floor in 2008 are misguided at best.”

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Performing a D&C on a woman who is miscarrying is of course common medical practice.  I should know—I had my own done in 2009 after I discovered I had lost the fetus weeks earlier and my body had never responded by going into labor. 

But the idea that abortions were performed on women who weren’t pregnant at all, now that is a totally different story. I had read many of Ms. Johnson’s interviews about her time at Planned Parenthood and the organization’s alleged zeal to up its abortion numbers or other plots to increase revenue, but hadn’t seen her claim the practice of pushing abortions on women who weren’t pregnant before.

I asked Ms. Johnson via email if she could clarify how abortions were performed on women who weren’t pregnant, and she was happy to explain:

I was, of course, a fan when I worked at Planned Parenthood. We often performed abortions on women who were nearing the end of their miscarriage. We would convince them it was necessary in order to collect the $400… since they were there anyway and we had already done an ultrasound. With these women, the fetal tissue had passed… we were basically just suctioning out a few cc’s of blood. Totally unnecessary for the patient, but necessary for our bottom line.

Although many reprodutive health professionals would be likely to consider miscarriage management like that to be fairly routine (and, as a woman who has been through the drawn out process of likely retained tissue that caused months of spontanious bleeding and an elevated hcg level, frankly, rather welcome), I was still more interested in the “not-pregnant” women, which Ms. Johnson explained further.

There were times where nothing was visualized in the uterus and we would perform the abortion anyway. Turned out the woman had an ectopic pregnancy. Once, the woman almost died in the ER from a ruptured tube. We paid her off to keep her quiet. That wasn’t the only time something like that happened. Planned Parenthood is not allowed to diagnose ectopic pregnancies, so many times abortions are performed on a non-pregnant uterus and the woman is sent home. Those were my personal experiences.

Ms. Johnson also mentioned the experiences of Carol Everett, the clinic worker in the 70’s who brought the “abortions on women who aren’t pregnant” concept to the religious right. I asked how likely it would be that such a thing occurs today, when pregnancy tests are available in every grocery store and gas station, and the vast majority of women go into a clinic already knowing whether or not they are pregnant.

That is true. But I have read in multiple places that 25 percent of women misread pregnancy tests. And I can tell you that we had women come in all the time who swore they had a negative test at home, but were indeed pregnant. I’m sure it was because of a misread… or possibly denial. Abortion clinics don’t perform pregnancy tests before performing abortions. And they certainly don’t draw quantitative beta HCG’s. So, I can see how the things that Carol Everett talked about could still happen today.

It is standard clinic procedure to do a follow-up pregnancy test to ensure that the patient is pregnant, and to narrow down whether she could have an ectopic pregnancy. I received a fact sheet from one clinic that had a list of factors to be considered if a pregnancy doesn’t show on an ultrasound that includes: 1) the patient is not actually pregnant 2) it’s too early to see anything or 3) the pregnancy is not actually located in the uterus, so it won’t be visible in an ultrasound. The suggested follow up is first to take another pregnancy test at the clinic, and, if it is positive, then wait seven to 14 days before returning for a second ultrasound. By that point, the pregnancy should be visible if it is in the uterus. The fact sheet also supplies the patient with warning signs to watch for should the pregnancy be ectopic, such as pain, dizziness or sudden weakness.

California provider Dr. Radha Lewis, MD, MS, a Physicians for Reproductive Choice and Health Fellow, disagreed with Ms. Johnson’s assertion that clinics don’t perform pregnancy tests, or will try to pressure women into unneeded procedures. “We give every women who comes in saying she is pregnant a pregnancy test, and if it is negative, we offer them birth control,” Dr. Lewis explained when I asked her the basic steps a woman would go through when getting an abortion.

What if the woman has miscarried already? Do clinics urge her to go ahead and get a D&C just in case?

“If a woman has a missed miscarriage we will present her with options,” said Dr. Lewis.  “She can either receive a D&C to complete it, or continue to wait, or we can give her medication to help the uterus contract to expel the tissue. If she is presenting symptoms such as continued bleeding, we would offer surgery in order to help her stop the blood loss and dizziness, just as an emergency room would do the same. This is the same choice provided to every woman across all clinics.”

Some will choose a D&C in order to simply move on, said Dr. Lewis. “She has other children, she is busy. She wants to get it over with and done.”

But force women to have an abortion when she was not actually pregnant? It simply doesn’t happen according to Dr. Lewis. “There are absolutely no instances of women having abortions performed on them when they are not pregnant and to say so is to assume that women are stupid and physicians unethical.”

News Sexual Health

State with Nation’s Highest Chlamydia Rate Enacts New Restrictions on Sex Ed

Nicole Knight Shine

By requiring sexual education instructors to be certified teachers, the Alaska legislature is targeting Planned Parenthood, which is the largest nonprofit provider of such educational services in the state.

Alaska is imposing a new hurdle on comprehensive sexual health education with a law restricting schools to only hiring certificated school teachers to teach or supervise sex ed classes.

The broad and controversial education bill, HB 156, became law Thursday night without the signature of Gov. Bill Walker, a former Republican who switched his party affiliation to Independent in 2014. HB 156 requires school boards to vet and approve sex ed materials and instructors, making sex ed the “most scrutinized subject in the state,” according to reproductive health advocates.

Republicans hold large majorities in both chambers of Alaska’s legislature.

Championing the restrictions was state Sen. Mike Dunleavy (R-Wasilla), who called sexuality a “new concept” during a Senate Education Committee meeting in April. Dunleavy added the restrictions to HB 156 after the failure of an earlier measure that barred abortion providers—meaning Planned Parenthood—from teaching sex ed.

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Dunleavy has long targeted Planned Parenthood, the state’s largest nonprofit provider of sexual health education, calling its instruction “indoctrination.”

Meanwhile, advocates argue that evidence-based health education is sorely needed in a state that reported 787.5 cases of chlamydia per 100,000 people in 2014—the nation’s highest rate, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Surveillance Survey for that year.

Alaska’s teen pregnancy rate is higher than the national average.

The governor in a statement described his decision as a “very close call.”

“Given that this bill will have a broad and wide-ranging effect on education statewide, I have decided to allow HB 156 to become law without my signature,” Walker said.

Teachers, parents, and advocates had urged Walker to veto HB 156. Alaska’s 2016 Teacher of the Year, Amy Jo Meiners, took to Twitter following Walker’s announcement, writing, as reported by Juneau Empire, “This will cause such a burden on teachers [and] our partners in health education, including parents [and] health [professionals].”

An Anchorage parent and grandparent described her opposition to the bill in an op-ed, writing, “There is no doubt that HB 156 is designed to make it harder to access real sexual health education …. Although our state faces its largest budget crisis in history, certain members of the Legislature spent a lot of time worrying that teenagers are receiving information about their own bodies.”

Jessica Cler, Alaska public affairs manager with Planned Parenthood Votes Northwest and Hawaii, called Walker’s decision a “crushing blow for comprehensive and medically accurate sexual health education” in a statement.

She added that Walker’s “lack of action today has put the education of thousands of teens in Alaska at risk. This is designed to do one thing: Block students from accessing the sex education they need on safe sex and healthy relationships.”

The law follows the 2016 Legislative Round-up released this week by advocacy group Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States. The report found that 63 percent of bills this year sought to improve sex ed, but more than a quarter undermined student rights or the quality of instruction by various means, including “promoting misinformation and an anti-abortion agenda.”

Roundups Politics

Campaign Week in Review: ‘If You Don’t Vote … You Are Trifling’

Ally Boguhn

The chair of the Democratic National Convention (DNC) this week blasted those who sit out on Election Day, and mothers who lost children to gun violence were given a platform at the party's convention.

The chair of the Democratic National Convention (DNC) this week blasted those who sit out on Election Day, and mothers who lost children to gun violence were given a platform at the party’s convention.

DNC Chair Marcia Fudge: “If You Don’t Vote, You Are Ungrateful, You Are Lazy, and You Are Trifling”

The chair of the 2016 Democratic National Convention, Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-OH), criticized those who choose to sit out the election while speaking on the final day of the convention.

“If you want a decent education for your children, you had better vote,” Fudge told the party’s women’s caucus, which had convened to discuss what is at stake for women and reproductive health and rights this election season.

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“If you want to make sure that hungry children are fed, you had better vote,” said Fudge. “If you want to be sure that all the women who survive solely on Social Security will not go into poverty immediately, you had better vote.”

“And if you don’t vote, let me tell you something, there is no excuse for you. If you don’t vote, you don’t count,” she said.

“So as I leave, I’m just going to say this to you. You tell them I said it, and I’m not hesitant about it. If you don’t vote, you are ungrateful, you are lazy, and you are trifling.”

The congresswoman’s website notes that she represents a state where some legislators have “attempted to suppress voting by certain populations” by pushing voting restrictions that “hit vulnerable communities the hardest.”

Ohio has recently made headlines for enacting changes that would make it harder to vote, including rolling back the state’s early voting period and purging its voter rolls of those who have not voted for six years.

Fudge, however, has worked to expand access to voting by co-sponsoring the federal Voting Rights Amendment Act, which would restore the protections of the Voting Rights Act that were stripped by the Supreme Court in Shelby County v. Holder.

“Mothers of the Movement” Take the National Spotlight

In July 2015, the Waller County Sheriff’s Office released a statement that 28-year-old Sandra Bland had been found dead in her jail cell that morning due to “what appears to be self-asphyxiation.” Though police attempted to paint the death a suicide, Bland’s family has denied that she would have ended her own life given that she had just secured a new job and had not displayed any suicidal tendencies.

Bland’s death sparked national outcry from activists who demanded an investigation, and inspired the hashtag #SayHerName to draw attention to the deaths of Black women who died at the hands of police.

Tuesday night at the DNC, Bland’s mother, Geneva Reed-Veal, and a group of other Black women who have lost children to gun violence, in police custody, or at the hands of police—the “Mothers of the Movement”—told the country why the deaths of their children should matter to voters. They offered their support to Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton during a speech at the convention.

“One year ago yesterday, I lived the worst nightmare anyone could imagine. I watched as my daughter was lowered into the ground in a coffin,” said Geneva Reed-Veal.

“Six other women have died in custody that same month: Kindra Chapman, Alexis McGovern, Sarah Lee Circle Bear, Raynette Turner, Ralkina Jones, and Joyce Curnell. So many of our children are gone, but they are not forgotten,” she continued. 

“You don’t stop being a mom when your child dies,” said Lucia McBath, the mother of Jordan Davis. “His life ended the day that he was shot and killed for playing loud music. But my job as his mother didn’t.” 

McBath said that though she had lost her son, she continued to work to protect his legacy. “We’re going to keep telling our children’s stories and we’re urging you to say their names,” she said. “And we’re also going to keep using our voices and our votes to support leaders, like Hillary Clinton, who will help us protect one another so that this club of heartbroken mothers stops growing.” 

Sybrina Fulton, the mother of Trayvon Martin, called herself “an unwilling participant in this movement,” noting that she “would not have signed up for this, [nor would] any other mother that’s standing here with me today.” 

“But I am here today for my son, Trayvon Martin, who is in heaven, and … his brother, Jahvaris Fulton, who is still here on Earth,” Fulton said. “I did not want this spotlight. But I will do everything I can to focus some of this light on the pain of a path out of the darkness.”

What Else We’re Reading

Renee Bracey Sherman explained in Glamour why Democratic vice presidential nominee Tim Kaine’s position on abortion scares her.

NARAL’s Ilyse Hogue told Cosmopolitan why she shared her abortion story on stage at the DNC.

Lilly Workneh, the Huffington Post’s Black Voices senior editor, explained how the DNC was “powered by a bevy of remarkable black women.”

Rebecca Traister wrote about how Clinton’s historic nomination puts the Democratic nominee “one step closer to making the impossible possible.”

Rewire attended a Democrats for Life of America event while in Philadelphia for the convention and fact-checked the group’s executive director.

A woman may have finally clinched the nomination for a major political party, but Judith Warner in Politico Magazine took on whether the “glass ceiling” has really been cracked for women in politics.

With Clinton’s nomination, “Dozens of other women across the country, in interviews at their offices or alongside their children, also said they felt on the cusp of a major, collective step forward,” reported Jodi Kantor for the New York Times.

According to Philly.com, Philadelphia’s Maternity Care Coalition staffed “eight curtained breast-feeding stalls on site [at the DNC], complete with comfy chairs, side tables, and electrical outlets.” Republicans reportedly offered similar accommodations at their convention the week before.