Saturday, January 7, 2012


I once volunteered for an organization that helped women afford safe abortions regardless of their income. I still do work for an organization that helps women afford abortions regardless of their income but it’s a different organization. There are many of us but never enough. There is never enough money in the right hands to make the world so safe for everyone.

I once worked with a woman who made too much money to qualify for the organization’s modest fund. She lived paycheck to paycheck but within comfortable means. Because my organization, as well as several other organizations, could not afford to assist her, she chose to obtain surgery at one of Steve Brigham’s clinics in Maryland—one of the cheapest clinics in the region.

She delayed her surgery to accrue the money on her own and spoke with me throughout the process because she intended to tell no one. Our conversations were completely centered on the expertise I could provide but there were limits to my services and I could offer little beyond confidential abortion information and referrals over the phone.

The conversations were brief but serious. At times, I felt her calls were taking over my life: on lunch, at the laundromat, making dinner, late night. She called me after her second trimester procedure. She was driving and pulled over to vomit. She had been sedated and released from the clinic without an escort to drive her home.

Avoiding and counter-referring the cheapest clinics in the Mid-Atlantic region is difficult and bothersome at best. Demoralizing, confounding, heart breaking that this is how the system works.

The existence of terrible abortion providers—those who make a business out of the desperation women feel when they know they cannot carry a pregnancy to term—creates an ultimate conundrum for Abortioneers—those who believe abortion helps society because they see how often it does. Abortioneers spend free time helping women navigate barriers to obtaining safe abortion care.

Case managers and patients alike desired abortions from Steve Brigham’s clinics because they needed to end pregnancies that were not meant to be but also feed children, pay rent, pay for school, pay bills. In a field so terrorized by anti-abortion monsters, there is urgency in the fight for women’s proper destiny that transcends the demand for safe health care. In other words, history has proven over and over that women will risk their lives to end doomed pregnancies.

An abortion at a shady clinic that’s not a back alley kitchen table seems somewhat more promising—the only option for some of your neighbors and you're okay with that as long as you don’t have to really talk about abortion, the abortions women are actually having, not the political weapon invented by the GOP.

My dear colleague and I visited one of Steve Brigham’s clinics soon after the case of the woman who drove home quasi-sedated. I took a pregnancy test. The medical assistants were kind and accommodating but the atmosphere was unsettling. My dear colleague and I resolved to find the money to help women get to the good clinics, the slightly higher-priced clinics—licensed and certified to provide safe, legal abortions.

In other words, as a non-medical, grassroots organization, we were not obligated to care whether the women we assisted received licensed and certified surgeries but we did care because we’re Abortioneers. The United States of America was founded under the governing principle that all people are inherently free, equal, and due justice. I would add that most people are just trying to get by. Laws have been implemented to protect the general good from the (rare) deviant.

Placing further limitations on the abortion procedure and tighter regulations on abortion facilities in the state of Maryland will not necessarily catch the rare and deviant Brigham-types any sooner in the grand pile of paperwork. However, caring about women having abortions will.

Most to the point, how about cracking down on New Jersey for failing to provide adequate health care? Often, abortion restrictions involve room measurements, time periods and additional hoops for abortioneers and pregnant women to meander through, or just plain prohibit necessary health care all together. I’m all for each state getting to know its abortion providers. Many abortion clinics in this country are quite stellar, but damn if a congressperson or state official ever walked through the doors just to say hello and thank you/ how can I help?

I can’t think of how this story might unfold in any other field of medicine because I do not know. But I can suggest that persecuting perfectly good abortion care providers—arguably some of the best in the country—detracts from a far more pertinent need: taking care of our pregnant citizens.

Steve Brigham was operating a business off the inevitability of abortion. He had a record. He was criminal, a rule-breaker who spotted a need and families willing to pay him for his supposed expertise.

Send him to jail but please do not hunt down the good clinics and treat them in the woods where no one not having an abortion cares to hear. There is a noble world ahead. One where Cheryl of Operation Rescue is not quoted in the Baltimore Sun like she’s some kind of reasonable and credible source.

When a woman resolves to have an abortion she has no choice. There is no world where some pregnant women will not have abortions. In exploring our disgust and misconceptions with abortion we find a real world—one where humans make complicated decisions and dying is a part of living—interwoven, like, death is happening right now inside and everywhere at the same time as life.

Your support starts with listening. Like, being able to hear the truth.


  1. This was entirely amazing. Thank you for writing such a thoughtful piece, when so much of the other coverage of this guy has seemed to take it as an opportunity to insinuate blanket statements about abortion care and those seeking it and those providing it.

  2. Thank you. Honesty is my best policy and an endangered art in this sound byte society. I fear for us. I do. But we know abortion isn't politics in our hearts and the earth knows too.

  3. It is very easy to demonize abortion providers. Once anti-choice persons take positions in government, as prosecutors or on medical boards, then the government itself can become an agent of the anti-choice agenda. And when the government takes action against an abortion provider, even pro-choice people can sometimes participate in demonizing an abortion provider.

    I am an Ob/Gyn Physician who works part-time for Dr. Brigham, part-time for Planned Parenthood, and part-time in my own practice.

    Dr. Brigham's clinics in Maryland are staffed by Board-Certified Obstetricians and Gynecologists and we believe that we deliver safe, quality care to women at a reasonable price. I was glad to read that you found our medical assistants "kind and accommodating" but disappointed that you found the atmosphere "unsettling". Making care affordable for poor women who must pay out of pocket requires that we keep our fees low, but that also means that we must keep our expenses down and we may not be able to afford the most luxurious of accommodations. Regarding the patient who allegedly drove home while sedated, it is our policy that no patient may be discharged home under sedation without a driver, and any patient receiving sedation signs consent forms certifying that she has a driver and will not drive. Unfortunately, some desperate women who need an abortion and cannot find a driver will sign the forms and say they have a driver who is coming to pick them up, and then attempt to drive themselves against our advice.

    I was disappointed to read that you think that Dr. Brigham is a "deviant" and that he is a "criminal" and that they should "send him to jail". Fortunately, even the anti-choice prosecutor was forced to drop all criminal charges against Dr. Brigham.

    Have you ever met Dr. Brigham?

    Did you know that he is a kind, dedicated abortion provider who has dedicated his professional life to this movement?

    Did you know that he routinely gave away his own personal services to his patients, free of charge? He, alone, is the only doctor in our group that would do that.

    Did you know that his doctors are all board-certified and fully licensed?

    Did you know that his clinics just passed inspections in Virginia, Florida, and New Jersey?

    Do you think that 25 board-certified doctors and 150 dedicated women fighting for women's rights would work for Dr. Brigham if he were so terrible? I assure you we would not.

    I have known Dr. Brigham for years and he is a kind, gentle, man who had devoted his life to serving poor women, and he deserves to be treated better by the pro-choice community.

  4. I'm conflicted as well. After having been active as an escort at one of Brigham's clinics for at least 3 years my wife unexpectedly became pregnant. We were both full time students and living in New Jersey. We were literally eating cereal 3 times a day. After much discussion we decided she would have an abortion and we would have children when our relative poverty ended.

    We went to Vorhees NJ for the procedure. Dr. Brigham knew who I was as I called ahead of time. I called my credit card company and told them to give me an emergency credit line increase which they did. As I was going to pay Dr. Brigham took the credit card out of his medical assitant's hand and gave it back. "Use it for groceries" he said, squeezing my hand as he said so.
    After seeing that my wife was nervous (she was raised Southern Baptist) he asked me to come with her. He told me to hold her hand during the procedure. He spoke to her during the whole procedure giving step by step details of what he was doing. After he was done he took both our hands and said "This isnt going to affect your ability to have children in the future. One day when the time is right the two of you are going to build a great family."

    The Dr. Brigham in the news is not the Dr. Brigham I remember. Maybe things have changed. Maybe he got greedy. Maybe the media is out to get him. But I'll always remember him as the doctor who did an abortion for free so 2 students could have food on their table.

  5. Mr. 4321: My apologies for the absolute lateness of my comment. In fact, I have met and conversed with Dr. Brigham and am quite familiar with his medical background. With all due respect, my colleagues and I felt there were clinics and MDs better suited for our referrals.


This is not a debate forum -- there are hundreds of other sites for that. This is a safe space for abortion care providers and one that respects the full spectrum of reproductive choices; comments that are not in that spirit will either wind up in the spam filter or languish in the moderation queue.