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


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.”

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.”

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  • thalwen

    A post-miscarriage D&C 1) isn’t an abortion because there’s no pregnancy to abort, 2) if there is left-over fetal tissue, then not having one can lead to all sorts of health problems or death (not that anti-choicers care if a woman dies). And the pregnancy test thing? Pure crap. The clinic I went to had a pregnancy test done the day of the abortion as a requirement to going forward with it (the other being several checks that I was absolutely sure of my choice). And they do a follow up pregnancy test to make sure it isn’t ectopic. 

     

    I’m sure CPCs do a swell job of screening for ectopic pregnancies, with their staff not having any medical training.

  • liberaldem

    has an agenda, and she isn’t going to let accurate information get in her way.  If she genuinely witnessed unethical practices during her employment at a Planned Parenthood clinic then it was her duty to report that behavior to the appropriate authorities.

    The fact that she changed her personal position on abortion and is now fervently anti-choice appears to be the factor that motivates her to misrepresent-excuse me, to lie about how Planned Parenthood clinics operate.

     

  • crowepps

    A D&C abortion procedure is a D&C abortion procedure so long as there are *or could be* any ‘products of pregnancy’ in the uterus, whether those are fetal or placental, and removing them is necessary to prevent infection.  It’s my understanding that Abby Johnson is not a medical professional, but instead a clinic administrator.  Perhaps her understanding of the medical details isn’t all it could be.

    Must say, after Abby Johnson cheerfully explains what a sleeze she admits she was when she worked at Planned Parenthood, and how she did all sorts of unethical things and told people lies because she was their ‘fan’, it’s a little hard to believe that she isn’t doing exactly the same thing now for her new ProLife ‘crush’, especially considering the huge speaking fees people are willing to pay to hear her claims of what a ‘sinner’ she used to be.

  • lindzanne

    I participated in the protest against her speaking at the University of WA that was covered a few times in RHRC.  Before I heard her speak, I thought, how could someone be so heartless?  (My continued surprise over anti’s heartlessness is naive, I know.)  After I heard her nearly unintelligable speech, I realized she is just not all that smart.  I am convinced she never really cared all that much about Planned Parenthood in the first place, and just got a better job offer.  That said, her continued blatant lies are just unbelievable.  They DON’T test for pregnancy?  Really?  I do know that for my abortion, I did not actually get tested at the clinic first, but did go to an affiliated health department nurse who examined me and gave me the test, then gave me a certified document confirming pregnancy that I COULD NOT show up at my appointment without.  Then they gave me a quick pee test right before the procedure AND confirmed with ultrasound.  That was standard, and is standard, across the board.  Sometimes that certified documented test and exam is done in clinic, sometimes not, but nobody EVER goes without one.  Unbelievable.  

  • thalwen

    You’re right and I not being a medical professional misspoke. My point was just that such a procedure is not just legitimate but absolutely necessary if there are any remains, anti-choicers like Johnson make it out like abortion clinics are trying to scam women so they get their imaginary giant profits. 

  • lightning

    My understanding is that a D&C is a fairly standard medical procedure for a number of conditions that have nothing to do with terminating a pregnancy.  My guess is that “an abortion on a woman who wasn’t pregnant” would be a D&C done to treat, say, uterine bleeding.

    Note — I am not a doctor and I don’t even play one on the Internet.

  • tinfoil

    You are absolutely correct on that observation.   

  • tinfoil

    You are absolutely correct on that observation.   

  • crowepps

    D&Cs are commonly performed for the diagnosis of gynecological conditions leading to ‘abnormal uterine bleeding’;[4] to resolve abnormal uterine bleeding (too much, too often or too heavy a menstrual flow);[2] to remove the excess uterine lining in women who have conditions such as polycystic ovary syndrome (which cause a prolonged buildup of tissue with no natural period to remove it);[citation needed] to remove tissue in the uterus that may be causing abnormal vaginal bleeding,[1] including postpartum retained placenta;[5] to remove retained tissue (also known as retained POC or retained products of conception) in the case of a missed or incomplete miscarriage;[3] and as a method of abortion that is now uncommon.[1] In contrast, D&C remains ‘standard care’ for missed and incomplete miscarriage in many countries despite the existence of alternatives currently used for abortions.

    Because medical and non-invasive methods of abortion now exist, and because D&C requires heavy sedation or general anesthesia and has higher risks of complication, the procedure has been declining as a method of abortion. The World Health Organization recommends D&C as a method of surgical abortion only when manual vacuum aspiration is unavailable.[6] According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, D&C only accounted for 2.4% of abortions in the United States in the year 2002,[7] down from 23.4% in 1972.[8] Most D&Cs are now carried out for miscarriage management and other indications such as diagnosis.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dilation_and_curettage

  • equalist

    With my last pregnancy, the first appointment didn’t show the pregnancy on an ultrasound even though I had a positive pregnancy test.  I’d gotten pregnant while using an IUD, and we knew ectopic pregnancy was a possibility.  When there was nothing on the ultrasound, that day, a blood test was drawn, a second ultrasound was scheduled for the following day, and ways of dealing with possibilites were discussed, including in the case of an ectopic pregnancy, medicinal termination if I was early enough, surgical abortion if not. Fortunately, the second ultrasound found the pregnancy, and showed that she was in the correct location, had a strong heartbeat, and I was at ten weeks.  My youngest daughter is now five, but I have never regretted agreeing to the posibility of termination depending on the circumstances and location of the pregnancy.

  • aminotawoman

    I can’t assume that abortions being done on non-pregnant women is a common occurence. Inuitively it seems so unlikely as to be nigh impossible. Women today have access to take home pregnancy tests and I’m guessing nearly always it’s a positive result that compells her phone call to her local abortion clinic in the first place. It’s unlikely with our ever increasing access to information about pregnancy and our ability to confirm pregnancy for ourselves that an abortion provider could have very much of an opportunity to pull much wool over very many women’s eyes.

    That being said, the absolute claim that it “never happens” is untrue. 
    http://www.reportingonhealth.org/blogs/no-pregnancy-required-nevada-abortion-doctor

    and though less relevant, it’s still worth noting that in 1978 reporters uncovered that this had been happening since the passing of  Roe in reputable Chicago clinics. http://media1.suntimes.com/multimedia/high021308.pdf_20080213_00_06_02_181.imageContent
    Again, I don’t think today we could see a comparable repeat to that many years old Chicago scandal with regards to performing abortions on unpregnant women , but it is still true that some clinicians have not been above such unethical opportunism even post-legality and that there’s at least the one incident of a modern physician not only not being above it but suceeding at doing exactly what this article says never and could never happen.

    Regardless of where on the life/choice spectrum one’s politics and convictions fall , if any of us hold to being on the side of women, we must strive mostly to be open and transparent about facts. 

    Peace. 

     

  • aminotawoman

    I can’t assume that abortions being done on non-pregnant women is a common occurence. Inuitively it seems so unlikely as to be nigh impossible. Women today have access to take home pregnancy tests and I’m guessing nearly always it’s a positive result that compells her phone call to her local abortion clinic in the first place. With our ever increasing access to information about pregnancy and our ability to confirm pregnancy for ourselves I doubt that an abortion provider could have much of an opportunity to pull such wool over very many women’s eyes.

    That being said, the absolute claim that it “never happens” is untrue. 
    http://www.reportingonhealth.org/blogs/no-pregnancy-required-nevada-abortion-doctor

    and though less relevant, it’s still worth noting that in 1978 reporters uncovered that this had been happening since the passing of  Roe in reputable Chicago clinics. http://media1.suntimes.com/multimedia/high021308.pdf_20080213_00_06_02_181.imageContent
    Again, I don’t think today we could see a comparable repeat to that many years old Chicago scandal with regards to performing abortions on unpregnant women , but it is still true that some clinicians have not been above such unethical opportunism even post-legality and that there’s at least the one incident of a modern physician not only not being above it but suceeding at doing exactly what this article says never and could never happen. 

    Regardless of where on the life/choice spectrum one’s politics and convictions fall , if any of us hold to being on the side of women, we must strive mostly to be open and transparent about facts. Discrediting the opposition is not pro-woman. Telling women the truth is. 

    Peace. 

  • colleen

    Regardless of where on the life/choice spectrum one’s politics and convictions fall , if any of us hold to being on the side of women, we must strive mostly to be open and transparent about facts. Discrediting the opposition is not pro-woman. Telling women the truth is.

    Are you suggesting that your links somehow prove that Robin is not striving to be “open and transparent about facts”? Are you seriously suggesting that Abby Johnson is telling the truth and that those links prove that?

  • aminotawoman

    No ma’am. I am not suggesting that. I do not know Robin.  For all I know she strives always and without fail  for “open transparency about facts” :-) , and for all I know (maybe only on  rare occassion ) she misses a fact or two that she wouldn’t otherwise in a zeal to discredit “anti-choicers”.  

    I also do not know Abby. For all I know she is telling the truth and for all I know she is lying through her teeth. 

    I did open by stating that I highly doubted abortions on unpregnant women could occur much at all today, even if a doctor would want to attempt it.  Pregnancy tests being available at the local dollar store make it pretty impossible to “trick” us about whether we’re pregnant or not. Since I said that, you could have just as easily assumed that I was suggesting that Abby was either lying or that I expected she was over-exaggerating… :-/ 

    My links weren’t provided to prove anything about the journalistic integrity of the author or the integrity of Abby Johnson. I’ve no interest in discrediting or defending the integrity of specific people who’s integrity I know nothing about :-) . I am interested in accuracy. The links were meant to provide accurate information relevant to the topic .  I do suggest that my links proved that it is inaccurate to say  performing the procedure on unpregnant women never happens. That’s why I shared them.  Accuracy is good. :-)

    My closing statement was not an underhanded criticism of the author – it was an appeal ,to anyone really, to recieve information in general with intellectual honesty and to shift away from anti-Otherness and redirect to pro-Truth ,no matter where they stand politically . My apologies that my statement came across as presumptious and critical. Wasn’t my intention. 

  • colleen

    No ma’am. I am not suggesting that.

    That’s good. So you were simply changing the subject in order to indulge in unnecessary admonitions.

    If you wish to appeal “to everyone” I suggest you focus your warnings in a more appropriate spot, perhaps Jill Stanek’s blog. The ‘pro-life’ movement uses lies, manipulation and bullying as political tactics. You do so yourself when you refer to abortion as “murder”. Abortion has never been treated as “murder” for good reason and referring to it as such is a obvious attempt to encourage the violence, destruction and actual murder which has been characteristic of that religious right movement since it’s inception. The “anti-Otherness” is to be expected when y’all try to force others to sacrifice their lives and well being for your beliefs.

     

     

    Pregnancy tests being available at the local dollar store make it pretty impossible to “trick” us about whether we’re pregnant or not.

    There is no ‘we’.You will never be pregnant and never have an abortion.

  • aminotawoman

    Hi Coleen
    So you were simply changing the subject in order to indulge in unnecessary admonitions.”
              You are right. My closing message that you’ve objected to did veer from the subject and wasn’t necessary. You’re also right that my intended encouragement of intellectual honesty was indulgent. I do get shameless pleasure out of promoting idealist ideas.  Again, a sincere apology for my careless wording which belied the spirit I typed in. 

    “If you wish to appeal “to everyone” I suggest you focus your warnings in a more appropriate spot, perhaps Jill Stanek’s blog. The ‘pro-life’ movement uses lies, manipulation and bullying as political tactics.”
             Just in case it was unclear, when I said : “regardless of where on the life/choice spectrum one’s politics and convictions fall” and “it was an appeal ,to anyone really “,  I meant it.  “Anyone regardless of where they stand politically” would ,of course, include the many “antichoicers” that read RhReality too.
             As for your suggestion: I do . This isn’t the only site I read or comment on. I think it’s incredibly important, especially in this topic that effects mothers/daughters/sisters/lovers ,gender equality,fundamental human rights of bodily autonomy, of life and of health etc  , that intellectual honesty be insisted upon and hateful statements rejected, I’m pretty passionate about eradicating the sex-shaming, sexist and condemning rhetoric from the abortion conversation and so I do spend quite some time on prolife blogs doing that, and when I come across something I know isn’t true- I provide the info. there too. 

    I’ve found that entire movements in general employ the tactics you mentioned :-( , but not all the groups and all people that make up such movements do. :-)

    “You do so yourself when you refer to abortion as “murder”.” 
      :-( Nowhere in our exchange have I refered to abortion as “murder”. I do not call abortion murder. It’s not murder. I’ve charged lifers who scream murder to stop because irrelevant to an existence of a “baby” ,by definition, it can not be murder and practically, calling it that,does nothing to promote life but instead only hurts and alienates people and perpetuates division( ironically, in effect, making it anti-life).  Murder , as I’m sure you know, is defined as unlawful killing with malicious aforethought. Since abortion is legal ,even if everyone agreed that abortion ends the lives of “unborn babies”, it’d still be untrue to call it murder. Additionally, Guttmacher’s list of reasons women abort do not include anything that suggest “malicious aforethought”. The women in my life I know who’ve made that choice were not motivated by malice, but by lack of a viable way to provide a good life for themselves and their child. The word is only ever inaccurate, inflammatory, cruel. It  likens the nature of 1/4 of all pregnant women in the U.S. to the monstrous nature of a person who slaughtered a toddler in cold-blood 
    :-’(. There’s no need for that word in this conversation . I agree.


    “characteristic of that religious right movement since it’s inception. The “anti-Otherness” is to be expected when y’all try to force others to sacrifice their lives and well being for your beliefs “
      You said “y’all” so I’ll clarify:   I’m not a deist. I’m Not republican and I have no “beliefs” I’d try to force someone to sacrifice their life over. I’d never try to force someone to sacrifice their life period. or their wellbeing.  That’s a very damning accusation and I’m not sure what I said that gave you the impression I deserved it

    ” 
    You will never be pregnant and never have an abortion.”
     
    I’ve been pregnant three times. One pregnancy ended in early miscarriage. The other two in the live births of my now 6 year old son and 4 year old daughter.  So yes, “we” .
     
    Peace  

  • colleen

    My closing message that you’ve objected to did veer from the subject and wasn’t necessary. You’re also right that my intended encouragement of intellectual honesty was indulgent. I do get shameless pleasure out of promoting idealist ideas.  Again, a sincere apology for my careless wording which belied the spirit I typed in.

    I’m struggling here. When you said:

    “Discrediting the opposition is not pro-woman. Telling women the truth is.”

    That was just passionate advocacy of intellectual honesty ? Because even you must understand that that isn’t…well, intellectually honest. It’s clear that your admonitions flow from the content of the first part of your post.

    My apologies about assigning you the wrong gender. I have eye surgery scheduled in January and your handle has a kerning issue that caused me to read it as IAMNOTAWOMAN. Likewise I had you confused with the other troll who is indeed claiming that abortion is murder and whose posts could bear some centrist scolding.

    That said, I disagree that discrediting the opposition is not ‘pro-woman’ and if the friggin ‘centrist’ Democrats don’t get around to discrediting politicians who are trying to redefine rape and deny the poor access to effective contraception that we will eventually lose this fight. I think people like you need to take a clue from the LGBT community and learn to fight effectively because, you know what, the opposition needs discrediting. I also disagree with your false equivalencies or the implication  that the pro-choice movement (or this blog) is  using the same tactics and strategy. It’s an analysis that is  unfounded and unfair and genuinely offensive. The pro-choice movement  aren’t 3 year olds, you are not the mommy and we won this election despite, not because of the precise strategy you are trying to sell.

    Perhaps Mrs Johnson saw that non-pregnant women were receiving D and C’s and, being not intellectually gifted and histrionic, she leapt to a disturbingly inaccurate conclusion. But the fact of the matter is that this woman  and a great many other people should be discredited and the failure to do so will result in enormous damage to countless lives.