- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 3, 2001

The number of abortions in this country has declined by 17.4 percent, dropping from a high of 1.608 million abortions in 1990 to a low of 1.328 million in 1997, the most recent year for which figures are available. That's good news; encouraging, anyway unless you happen to be running an abortion clinic.

The New York Times came out with an unknowingly Swiftian front page story over the weekend about hard times in the abortion business. With patients fewer and clinics more plentiful "there are not too few abortion providers, as abortion proponents have lamented for years," the newspaper wrote competition is fierce, with price wars and one-upmanship in what you might call the amenity department becoming common practice.

Take Renee Chelian, who runs three abortion clinics in the Detroit suburbs. In an effort to draw patients, Ms. Chelian now offers a "spa-like atmosphere at her offices, with low light in her rooms, aroma therapy, candles and relaxing music." Anything to be competitive in the tight Detroit market, where two dozen clinics (plus nine more within a two-hour drive of the city) struggle to stay in business. "As altruistic as women and feminists want to be, the reality is that we can only stay in business if we earn enough to keep our door open," she says. What Ms. Chelian calls altruism would seem to have its limits.

It's not easy being an entrepreneur, but there's something mind-bendingly perverse about these bland, matter-of-fact dissections of the bottom line in the abortion industry about offering mifepristone, the so-called abortion pill formerly known as RU-486, as "a loss leader." About mergers to offset the decline in women seeking to terminate their pregnancies; about the problems independent clinic owners have with Planned Parenthood clinics and their bargain-basement price scale. "I would sort of compare them to Wal-Mart coming in and taking over from the mom and pops," said Dr. William West of Dallas, choosing a most unfortunate metaphor. Then there's Dr. Warren Hern of Boulder, a man who found his "niche" performing second- and third-term abortions. "But now even that niche is starting to erode," he said wistfully? explaining that many doctors now perform late-term abortions. "Twenty years ago, there were just two or three doctors in the country doing late abortions."

That's progress for you: Second- and third-term abortions are not only not uncommon, but they can be cut out of their moral and physical context to be examined only in the driest terms of the bottom line. Why not? When anything goes, anything really does go. As Dr. William Ramos of Las Vegas put it, "I find this" performing abortions "to be a very rewarding practice, emotionally and financially." The only thing keeping more doctors from entering what the newspaper labels "the abortion arena," he says, is "the social stigma." Reading this story, one has to wonder, What social stigma?


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