The Ideas Behind the Abortion Industry’s
Deceptive Counseling Practices
The article below is excerpted from the classic book Aborted Women, Silent No More, by David C. Reardon. This excerpt describes how, in the 1970s, the abortion industry’s approach to “counseling” was developed.
Like most other commercial businesses, the abortion industry has a specialized sales force and a carefully defined marketing strategy. The sale force is composed of abortion counselors who “help” women decide about abortion. Their marketing strategy is to tell their clients as little as possible ‑‑ and never anything negative ‑‑ about their product.
[As far back as the 1970s,] the sales and marketing divisions of the abortion industry were described in lurid detail in [a] Chicago Sun‑Times abortion expose. In that series, undercover reporters charged that at “Michigan Ave. abortion mills, women who are hired to counsel don’t ‑‑ they’re paid to sell.” And the selling of abortion, they observed, included “sophisticated pitches and deceptive promises.”1
At one of the clinics investigated, slick brochures assured women that: “From admission to recovery, patient ease and comfort are first considerations. She is encouraged to ask questions, share feelings or misgivings.” But in actual practice, the same clinic instructed its counselors with these three guidelines:
(1) “Don’t tell [the] patient the abortion will hurt.”
(2) “Don’t discuss [the abortion] procedure or the instruments to be used in any detail.”
(3) “Don’t answer too many questions.”2
The Sun‑Times reporters criticized this type of “counseling” as being superficial and deceptive. On both counts, the reporters were right. But this type of counseling is not only common throughout the country, it is the accepted and recommended philosophy of the abortion industry. According to that counseling philosophy, the patient is to be “protected” from information which might discourage [abortion] or make her situation more difficult. …
“Few Women Really Want Abortion”
This philosophy was developed at a 1971 conference for abortion providers held in Los Angeles. Some of the statements made during a special symposium devoted to the “proper” role of abortion counseling are particularly revealing.
For example, one nurse told her colleagues that “whether rich or poor, few women really wanted an abortion.”3 Therefore, she suggested, it was important for counselors to avoid conveying any attitudes that might reinforce negative feelings. Counselors were advised to be particularly careful about their choice of words. They were told never to refer to the procedure as “abortion,” but instead to use euphemistic expressions.
Another speaker, nurse Henrietta Blackmon, advised that counselors and nurses should be able and willing to describe the procedure, but should never describe the abortion instruments, since this might upset the client. Above all, she warned, counselors should be on guard to keep their own true feelings in check:
If you say “Suck out the baby,” you may easily generate or increase trauma; say instead, “Empty the uterus,” or “We will scrape the lining of the uterus,” but never “We will scrape away the baby.” These may seem very, very insignificant to us, but to the patient it can really imply that you are using a judgment, and quite often we are not aware of what we are saying. We have to be very, very sensitive, and very, very aware of what words we are using to describe the procedures used. Use the word “fetus”: This is a fetus; this is not a “baby.”4
According to these experts, who were establishing the counseling standards to be used across the nation, an abortion counselor’s only purpose is to act as “facilitator and participant” in the abortion process ‑‑ a compassionate friend to help the aborting woman face the unknown and overcome her doubts.
Counselors, they warned, were not to urge reevaluation of either the client’s needs or the decision to abort; they were only to make it as easy as possible for the woman to get the abortion. Any other form of counseling that challenged her “decision,” provided new information about risks or fetal development, or dwelt on options, would only increase [feelings of] doubt, anxiety and guilt. …
Therefore, the role of the counselor was to provide emotional support, explain the clinic’s routine, describe the procedure in a neutral manner, and “[only] if the doctor approved ‑‑ warn the patient of the possibility of future sterility.” Finally, the counselor should reassure the patient that the decision to abort was good, ethical, and acceptable.5 …
Taking Advantage of Women in Crisis
One factor which allows abortion counselors to get away with telling so little is that many women seeking abortions are in a vulnerable, frightened or insecure position. In one case, for example, a woman who was counseled in a group situation had several questions she wanted to ask, but she did not, saying: “I was afraid to ask them with all those people around.”6 … Feeling frightened and dependent on others [who are often insisting on abortion], women seeking abortion are generally not in a position to insist on complete answers.
Second, many women do not know what questions they should ask, especially when it comes to complications. In general, the most that they are told is that: “There are only slight risks to this procedure, like in any operation. It’s nothing to worry about.” The vagueness of this reassurance prevents even the slightest possibility for women to ask questions like: “Will dilation damage my cervix? Will a ‘slight infection’ reduce my ability to conceive in the future?”
Lying About Fetal Development
But worst of all is the lack of counseling about fetal development; it never occurs. Information about the stage of development of the fetus to be aborted is available at any local library, but never at the local abortion clinic.
To abortion counselors, discussion of fetal development is absolutely taboo. It will only upset their patients, they argue, and increase the feelings of guilt women may face. Counselors are so concerned with “protecting” women from these facts that distortions and lies are an accepted method of easing the patient’s concerns.
An example of such “reassuring” counseling is described by Julie Engel, who received an abortion when she was three months pregnant.
Then I asked, “Is abortion a threat to future pregnancies?” “Women often have D & C’s [dilation and curettage] to help them get pregnant,” was the perfunctory answer. “Are there psychological problems?” I continued. “Hardly ever. Don’t worry,” I was told. … “What does a three‑month‑old fetus look like?” “Just a clump of cells,” she answered matter‑of‑factly.7
In the years that followed, Julie discovered that she was no longer able to conceive. And then one day she saw some of the pictures of fetal development:
When I saw that a three‑month‑old “clump of cells” had fingers and toes and was a tiny, perfectly formed baby, I became really hysterical. I’d been lied to and misled and I’m sure thousands of other women are being just as poorly informed and badly served. To prove it, John [her husband] and I visited most every clinic in Cleveland. I pretended I was pregnant and asked for guidance. What we heard was incredible. One counselor told us the fetus did not begin to resemble a human being until seven months; another said five months and so it went.8
Deciding What’s Best for Women
The desire to “protect” women from the biological facts … is all part of the paternalistic attitude of abortion providers, which automatically presumes that abortion is the “best” solution for women in trouble, especially if the women they serve are young and destitute. Instead of giving women all the available information and alternatives so that women can decide for themselves, counselors screen the information given so as to “guide” their clients to the “best” (and most profitable) solution, which they, the counselors, have already picked out for them. …
Once counselors decide what is “best” on behalf of their clients, it is an easy matter to influence the clients’ final decisions toward the predetermined outcome. Counseling, in such cases, downplays or even denies the availability of support resources, and instead concentrates on the “tremendous burdens” involved in raising a child.
Such counseling sessions encourage the women to believe that abortion … is in fact “the only practical thing to do.” Explaining how she handles such cases, abortion counselor Betty Orr of Preterm in Cleveland says, “I ask them who is going to take care of the baby while they’re in school. Where are they going to get money for clothes?”9 Faced with such antagonism rather than offers of confirmation and support, frightened and vulnerable young women are easily convinced that abortion is their only option ‑‑ even when it is contrary to their real desires.
When counseling teenage girls, many family planning and abortion counselors are so confident that they are the ones with the “best” solutions, that they envision themselves as being “better” parents than the girl’s own natural parents. Seeing themselves as being “substitute parents,” they jealously guard their “right” to decide what is “best” for their troubled girls. Wanting no interference from the “outside”, many clinics will go to great lengths to “protect” a young girl from family members who might encourage birth rather than abortion,10 [even if it means covering up sexual abuse].
Has Anything Changed Today?
Unfortunately, as many former abortion facility workers can testify, failing to help women who don’t really want to abort, withholding information, lying about fetal development and deciding “what’s best” for women hasn’t changed today.
Indeed, a survey of American and Russian women who had abortions, published in the Medical Science Monitor, found that:
- 64 percent of American respondents reported they were pressured by others to abort;
- More than 50 percent said they were uncertain or needed more time to make a decision;
- 79 percent said they were not given any information about abortion alternatives;
- 84 percent said they did not receive adequate counseling before abortion; and
- 67 percent said they received no counseling before abortion.
This research suggests that women and girls are not being given even the minimum of counseling that they need and deserve. A survey of women seeking medical services found that, when it comes to elective medical procedures, 95 percent of respondents wanted to be informed of all the risks of the procedure and 69 percent wanted to be informed of all possible alternative treatments, not just those preferred by their doctor.
Further, when asked about elective gynecological or obstetric procedures such as abortion or sterilization, the results indicated that, on average, women wanted to be given more information than they did with other elective procedures.8
One way to protect the rights of women is through legislation that would hold abortion facilities accountable for failing to screen women for coercion and risk factors that could increase their chances of psychological problems after abortion. Laws based on the Elliot Institute’s model screening bill have been passed in South Dakota and Nebraska. This would help ensure that women and girls are given accurate information and access to viable resources, not false information and high-pressure sales tactics disguised as support.
A previous version of this article was published in the book Aborted Women, Silent No More by David C. Reardon (Springfield, IL: Acorn Books, 1987, 2002).
Resources to Download and Share:
Forced Abortion in America Special Report
Other Resources on Coerced Abortion
Help and Healing Guide: Pregnancy and Post-Abortion Help
1. Pamela Zekman and Pamela Warrick, “The Abortion Profiteers,” Chicago Sun‑Times Special Reprint, December 3, 1978 (original publication November 12, 1978) 2‑3 and 33.
2. Ibid., 33.
3. Paul Marx, The Death Peddlers: War on the Unborn (Collegeville, MN, St. John’s University Press, 1971) 19.
4. Ibid., 21.
5. Ibid., 18‑19.
6. Zekman and Warrick, “The Abortion Profiteers,” 33.
7. Milton Rockmore, “Are You Sorry You Had An Abortion?”, Good Housekeeping, July 1977, Volume 185, 120.
9. Linda Bird Francke, Ambivalence of Abortion (New York: Random House, 1978) 179.
10. Donald DeMarco, “The Family at Bay,” The Human Life Review, Volume VIII, No. 4, Fall 1982 44‑54; Thomas and Catherine Yassu, “The Abortionists Betray a Family,” brochure printed by Sun Life, Thaxton, Virginia; and “Court OKs Abortion for Suicidal Minor,” Illinois Right to Life Committee News, Sept/Dec 1986, 1.