In Illinois, Doctors Refusing to Treat Women Who’ve Had Abortions


RH Reality Check has partnered with the American Civil Liberties Union (National and Illinois offices) to bring you stories from a reproductive health road trip undertaken to learn directly from people in the state about the obstacles they face in accessing basic care.  This article is one in the series; other articles forthcoming will provide more in-depth information on the stories collected from women and men in need of sexual and reproductive health care.  Read the earlier pieces here and here.

Mid-morning on Friday, after meetings at the Hope Clinic and the East Side Health District (more on these soon), Khadine and I finally turned our wheels onto the road home to Chicago.

It was a beautiful morning. We passed trucks carrying squash and trucks carrying cows. We saw endless fields of corn along I-55, and hundreds of wind farms popping up across the countryside. And we felt good – glad of the work we had accomplished over the 11 day road trip, and glad to be returning home to our families and our own beds.

Then we hit the first construction zone. And then another. We stopped for gas, and ran into another traffic jam. We stopped at the Cozy Dog Drive Inn in Springfield, in the hopes that a lunch break would lead to clearer roads ahead.

But it didn’t. If anything, there was more construction on I-55 north of Springfield than south of it. Near Bloomington the traffic slowed to a standstill. We pulled off at the nearest rest stop and switched drivers.

It didn’t seem to help. As we approached the Chicago outskirts, we hit bottlenecks and stopped still in traffic. “Construction next 2 miles” signs became “Construction next 8 miles.” It was incredibly frustrating to face so many roadblocks, when all we wanted was to be at home after 11 days on the road.

But then, roadblocks and obstacles were the persistent, never-ending theme of our entire voyage – so perhaps it was only appropriate that we faced a few ourselves on the road home.

Every place we visited in Illinois–from Rockford to Carbondale, and from the Quad Cities to Champaign-Urbana–revealed that people in Illinois face numerous obstacles in accessing reproductive health services and information. Kids aren’t learning how to make healthy decisions and protect themselves, women can’t reliably get access to birth control, emergency contraception or abortion, and those who decide to parent or place their infant for adoption cannot find the support they need to facilitate those decisions.

I want to focus, however, on one particularly disturbing obstacle that was mentioned in city after city: doctors refusing to care for women who have had abortions. Mind you, these are not doctors refusing to perform abortions. What we heard, in three separate communities, was that there are doctors who refuse to perform routine post-abortion check-ups or even to provide care for completely unrelated ailments to women who previously had abortions. What’s worse, in two instances we heard that these doctors were some of the few who were accepting Medicaid patients at all – meaning that poor women would have to face greater obstacles to receive needed medical care. In one instance, we heard of a doctor throwing a patient’s medical records on the ground and storming out after he learned she had had an abortion.

Doctors are, of course, entitled to their own personal beliefs. But doctors also have an obligation not to let those beliefs interfere with their patients’ access to medical care.  Patients shouldn’t be turned away simply because the doctor disapproves of the personal decisions the patient and her family have made – especially in places like rural Illinois where a doctor’s refusal to see a patient can mean a long wait to find another provider and a long distance to travel to get the care she needs.

In the end, Khadine and I overcame our obstacles and arrived home Friday after 2,573 miles and 11 days on the road. We hope the information we gathered will help others in Illinois overcome the obstacles they face in accessing reproductive health care and information. We will continue to share their stories in the weeks ahead.

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To schedule an interview with Allie Carter please contact Communications Director Rachel Perrone at rachel@rhrealitycheck.org.

  • julie-watkins

    I wish this article had less fluff and more quotes and statistics. In how many rural towns did this happen? In which town (or a town in which county, if naming the town would cause privacy problems), and was it the only doctor in town/county? Or how many other doctors taking medicad in the town?

    I’ve read fundraising appeals from AFA (or some similar group) with this style of writing (fluff & controversay) … except they were complaining how Planned Parenthood was [supposedly] taking Federal money to pay for abortions.

    I wish this had more substance. I live in Champaign-Urbana. There’s a lot of controversy about the Police here, but not Doctors.

  • nycprochoicemd

    I am disgusted that my profession protects people who refuse to fulfill their duties as physicians. I don’t care what they think about the women who come to them for help, they need to take care of them no matter what. Medicine is not about the doctor, it’s about the person who trusts them.

    Sorry for the self-promotion, but I wrote a blog post about this: http://abortiongang.org/2010/07/on-conscience-clauses-and-provider-privilege/

  • kevin-rahe

    “Kids aren’t learning how to make healthy decisions and protect themselves, women can’t reliably get access to birth control, emergency contraception or abortion…”

     

    If you’re really concerned about teens’ and women’s health, then I you need to take a look at what you’re advocating.  A study published last year which I believe was funded by grants from the NIH and/or NCI found that after age and family history, a past abortion and early or recent use of oral contraceptives were the greatest risk factors for triple-negative breast cancer.

  • kevin-rahe

    Oops, I meant to include links to the research I spoke of.  Here they are:

     

    http://cebp.aacrjournals.org/content/18/4/1157.full

    http://cebp.aacrjournals.org/content/18/4/1157/T1.expansion.html

  • curtisp

    So I suppose this means that these docs needs medical treatment other doctors get to refuse treatment for them because they refused to treat women who have had abortions.

  • crowepps

    Just how does having doctors refuse to treat these women LATER reduce any possible breast cancer risk?

  • crowepps

    Abortion and breast cancer: The manufactroversy that won’t die

    …..

    Given the preponderance of evidence, although it is still possible that there may be a link between abortion and breast cancer, it is unlikely that there is, and, if there is, it’s likely to be very, very small, given that numerous epidemiological studies have failed to uncover it. In this, the evidence for the ABC link is not unlike the state of evidence regarding vaccines and autism. Early studies, not as large, well-designed, or rigorous, suggested that there might be an association, but the larger and better-designed the study, the smaller the OR became until it converged on 1.0. Current evidence does not support the ABC link, and there are enough studies to allow us to conclude either that there probably is none or that it’s very small. That’s as good as it gets in epidemiological studies, which, unfortunately, can never entirely eliminate the possibility of a correlation. They can only conclude that the chance of a significant correlation is very, very low. Moreover, contrary to the inflated claims of some activists, even Joel Brind’s own infamous meta-analysis from 2003 does not show a 30% risk of breast cancer if a young woman has an abortion before the age of 18, much less a virtual certainty that she’ll develop breast cancer if she has a strong family history as well. In fact, Brind’s own work, which is held up as “proof” of an ABC link, only suggests at the most an OR = 1.3 to 1.5, which is nowhere near high enough to produce the 30% lifetime risk of breast cancers claimed by overwrought activists like Dr. Lanfranchi.

    …..

    http://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/?p=2749

  • kevin-rahe

    Wayne State University.  Notorious.  Of course, no one from that institution who wants to maintain the respect of his peers would hesitate to throw a researcher under the bus who changed from their liberal point of view to another, such as Louise Brinton did.

     

    Also, the study I cited is only one of four recent studies that indicate much the same thing.  Here’s an article about the whole bunch of them.  (By the way, the China and Turkey studies included samples of over 3,000 women.)

     

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-1288955/Abortion-triple-risk-breast-cancer.html

  • prochoiceferret

    Also, the study I cited is only one of four recent studies that indicate much the same thing.

     

    Tell you what, Kevin. Convince the National Cancer Institute that abortion causes breast cancer, and we’ll believe you. I’m sure it should be easy, with all those study-things you have.

     

    Until then, we’ll continue to rely on the judgment of the nice smart people in lab coats. I’m sure you can understand.

  • kevin-rahe

    Sorry, that NCI page was last updated before some of the more recent studies were published.  You have to wonder, though, why it relies so heavily on the conclusions of a 2003 “workshop” of “experts” from around the world while completely ignoring the more recent work and conclusions by one of its own researchers:

     

    http://dceg.cancer.gov/about/staff-bios/brinton-louise

  • prochoiceferret

    Sorry, that NCI page was last updated before some of the more recent studies were published.  You have to wonder, though, why it relies so heavily on the conclusions of a 2003 “workshop” of “experts” from around the world while completely ignoring the more recent work and conclusions by one of its own researchers:

     

    Great! Go tell them that. We’ll wait for you.

  • princess-rot

    In one instance, we heard of a doctor throwing a patient’s medical records on the ground and storming out after he learned she had had an abortion.

     

    Tantruming like an irate toddler is not going to make a woman conform to a stranger’s fantasy of what her life should be like. I can hardly believe (well, I can, I just don’t want to) that a medical professional would be so up his own ass. Would he only treat women who come to him simpering with armfuls of babies and an enormous pregnant belly? Disgusting behavior, and so unprofessional. The baby rabid culture in this country needs to die.

  • soclosetolife

    Kevin, did you actually read any of those links you just posted?

     

    The Louise Brenton page where she is supposedly accepting an ABC link is mostly about her studies with hormone serology, reconstructive surgeries, and and gynecologic cancers. The word abortion isn’t even on the page.

    Also the JNCI article was about the effect of oral contraceptives on breast cancer. It mentioned in passing a study related to a possible ABC link. In that other study the authors themselves even admitted that the results from epidiemiological studies were so mixed that it was impossible to tell from their own work. Also the study itself had several common flaws that have been shown in past to affect results (mainly that they used the files of those women who had already been diagnosed with BC and were therefore more likely to admit an abortion).

     

    Try this one. http://archinte.ama-assn.org/cgi/content/full/167/8/814

  • kevin-rahe

    The link to Louise Brinton’s page was only intended to show her status as an NCI researcher, not answer all the questions about links between oral contraceptives, abortion and breast cancer.  You have to look at the other links I provided earlier to get the whole picture.  She is one of the authors of the study to which I provided links and she’s also mentioned in the Daily Mail article.

  • grayduck

    “But doctors also have an obligation not to let those beliefs interfere with their patients’ access to medical care.”

     

    How does ripping someone’s arms and legs off not interfere with that person’s access to medical care? If what you say even begins to have any validity, abortionists are the primary people violating that obligation in this situation.

     

    http://www.truthtube.tv/play.php?vid=4109

     

  • prochoiceferret

    How does ripping someone’s arms and legs off not interfere with that person’s access to medical care? If what you say even begins to have any validity, abortionists are the primary people violating that obligation in this situation.

     

    It’s interesting how anti-choicers are like that guy from Memento, who can’t remember anything for more than a few seconds—except that it’s specifically the pregnant (or ex-pregnant) woman that they forget about.

     

    They should get themselves tatooed like this, except with variations on “pregnancy involves a woman,” “a fetus doesn’t just float in space,” and so on:

     

     

    Not that any anti-choicer would look nearly that hot, of course. For a more realistic picture, imagine the above guy, but with a body like this:

     

  • carolyninthecity

    GrayDuck….that doesn’t make any sense. The doctors who are denying care based on a woman’s past abortion are obviously not the same doctors who are performing the abortions in the first place. 

     

    the point of the article is that a doctor cannot look at your medical history, decide he or she has a moral objection to something that was done in the past and then just not treat you. If anything is unethical, it would be denying care to a woman who needs it. 

     

    and yes, the video in the link you posted is horrific and sad. But do you honestly think there wasn’t a valid medical reason for it? You don’t know the context, anything about the woman or her/the baby’s conditions. If all you have to say is “abortionists are evil, look at this horrifying video as my evidence!” then you have nothing valid to contribute to the discussion. 

     

     

  • grayduck

    “…a doctor cannot look at your medical history, decide he or she has a moral objection to something that was done in the past and then just not treat you.”

     

    There is nothing unethical about refusing to give aid and comfort to those who create evil. There is something unethical about creating evil for mere convenience, pleasure, or profiteering.

     

    “But do you honestly think there wasn’t a valid medical reason for it?”

     

    If the abortion is like the vast majority of abortions in the United States, the answer is no. In at least 97 percent of abortions in the United States, no medical reason existed for the abortion. And, in at least that many instances, the factors that led to the abortion were probably known by the father and/or the mother when they engaged in sexual intercourse. As such, they were using abortion as a method of birth control.

     

    When I have given these statistics in the past, people have responded by saying that non-medical abortions never occur in the third trimester. But if they never occur, why do they need to be legal? (Roe v. Wade, at least in theory, allows restrictions on post-viability abortions. But according to the Court’s own ruling in Planned Parenthood v. Danforth, a fetus in the ninth month may not be viable, and therefore cannot be protected by a gestational time limit on abortions.)

     

  • arekushieru

    There is nothing unethical about refusing to give aid and comfort to those who create evil. There is something unethical about creating evil for mere convenience, pleasure, or profiteering.”

     

    Ah, yeah, there is, because you are talking about the WRONG set of ethics.  We are NOT talking about his PERSONAL set of ethics, but MEDICAL ethics.  Whooops!

  • arekushieru

    Abortion IS birth control.  ALWAYS. 

     

     

  • grayduck

    “Ah, yeah, there is…”

     

    What is your source?

     

  • grayduck

    Under the American Medical Association Code of Medical Ethics, “…[a] physician may decline to accept [an] individual as a patient.”

     

    http://www.ama-assn.org/ama/pub/physician-resources/medical-ethics/code-medical-ethics/opinion906.shtml

     

  • arekushieru

    You seem unable to point out the part where it says what the basis of that decision must be, such as medical condition.  Thanks….

  • prochoiceferret

    Under the American Medical Association Code of Medical Ethics, “…[a] physician may decline to accept [an] individual as a patient.”

     

    “Sorry, I don’t treat black people.”

     

    “What? I’m being 100% AMA-ethical!”