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'Abortions on Women Who Aren't Pregnant' Common Trope of Anti-Choice Movement

Reproductive rights reporter (and RH Reality Check weekly columnist) Amanda Marcotte writes Tuesday that Missouri Congressman and Republican Senate candidate Todd Akin, already well-known for his solidly anti-choice positions, gave a speech in 2008 in which he states that, among other things, abortion providers perform abortions on "women who are not actually pregnant."Carol Everett speaks at Lifewatch-sponsored luncheon, 2008. (Photo: Paul Jeffrey/UMNS.)

To many readers, that would seem like a bizarre statement. After all, you can't have an abortion unless you are pregnant! But for the culture of anti-choice activists that see providers as monsters and women as gullible victims, this is almost religiously-accepted fact.

Carol Everett, a former clinic worker in the 70's who then "converted" and became an outspoken icon for the anti-choice movement, was fond of telling stories of the horrors she allegedly assisted with when she was in the "abortion industry." She once provided a testimonial on James Dobson's Focus on the Family's radio program in the 80's where she claimed she was constantly involved in "unneeded" abortions in order to make money.

There are two other things I'd like to talk about. There are women who come in and have abortions but aren't pregnant. You may say, "Oh, that doesn't happen." Maybe you say that. It does happen. First of all, this woman thinks she's pregnant. She's scheduled herself for an abortion. She's come in and her pregnancy test is negative. They have a woman that they have paid their advertising dollars to get in there. They want to do that abortion if there is any way.

So they do everything they can to prove that she's pregnant or has been pregnant. You say "has been pregnant?" Yes, if they can convince her that she has been pregnant, that she's had a spontaneous abortion. She's going to have to go into the hospital to have a D&C to remove the rest of the contents of her uterus. They will convince her to go ahead and have a procedure she doesn't need that day. And it happens. Channel four [Dallas-FortWorth] got it on tape -- a woman that went directly from our office to a doctor's office and the doctor told her that she was and had never been pregnant, and we had tried to do an abortion on her. I don't know what percentage that is. I have no idea...

Everett may have claimed that abortions were performed for no reason and for the sake of financial gain, but it was a statement vociferiously rebutted by many of her former colleagues. For example, William W. West, Jr., M.D., who works in outpatient psychiatry, obstetrics and gynecology, stated in a news release in 1988 after Everett had been appointed the public affairs Director of Greater Dallas Right to Life Committee and Texas Coalition for Life:

"One thing Ms. Everett claims is that callous greed like hers is a common motive among those who are involved in the provision of abortion services. This is flagrantly untrue. She should know better. She also contends that legal abortion, as practiced in the United States today, is prohibitively dangerous. In actual fact, it is probably about as safe as having a wisdom tooth pulled and is certainly much safer than having a baby, its only alternative. She should know this."

". . .Among Ms. Everett's various fraudulent claims is her assertion that abortion surgery is deliberately performed on women who are not actually pregnant in order to get their money. Give me a break! I hope there are not many among us who are cynical and gullible enough to actually believe such garbage!"

However, in the early days after Roe v. Wade, there were reputable stories of abortions being performed on women who weren't pregnant, as in a 1978 expose by the Chicago Sun Times, where female reporters went undercover to clinics to investigate allegations of illegal abortions after the first trimester, unsanitary conditions, and not-pregnant women receiving D&Cs. The resulting series of articles were lurid and uncomfortable, and some of the clinics involved were closed as a result of the discovery. Still, those cases marked the very rare exceptions, not the actions of providers as a whole.

But anti-choicers have revived this old story as they did the medieval "legitimate rape" claims, and have used these claims as one basis for passage of mandatory ultrasound laws. When Michigan proposed their ultrasound bill in 2005, "anecdotal" evidence of practitioner malfeasance was used as one of the arguments for passing the bill. According to the legislative analysis of the HB 4446:

Some clinics perform abortions on the basis of the results of a urine test alone. These tests can give false positives.  There is anecdotal testimony to suggest that women, in some circumstances, have been given an abortion when there was no pregnancy. Requiring an ultrasound will give additional verification that the woman is pregnant and protect the health of a woman by ensuring she is not given an unnecessary procedure.

The claims continued through 2011, with Concerned Women for America's Wendy Wright testifying in support of the Ohio bill to ban abortion from the point in which an embryonic heartbeat could be detected.

Would abortionists do abortions on women who are not pregnant? Numerous reports from investigative journalists, state inspectors, and abortion providers have revealed abortionists who routinely committed abortions on Women who were not pregnant.

Her sources for her testimony range from an investigation in Florida where a lack of pregnancy tests for half the patients was taken by investigators to mean that the women who underwent abortions weren't pregnant, to a former clinic worker's testimony against a Kansas provider (an assertion that is missing in follow-up documents), and even the testimony from the Michigan ultrasound bill in 2005 (yes, that unspecified "anecdotal evidence").

It's ironic when you think about it, however. On one hand, anti-choice activists are declaring that a woman is pregnant before a pregnancy test could even confirm it, or that a fertilized egg not implanting in the womb somehow is the loss of a complete and separate fully formed life. At the same time, they are also completely convinced that there is a mass undertaking by doctors to perform pregnancy terminations on women who aren't in fact even medically pregnant.