July 15, 2014

University under fire for so-called “abortion guide”

A University of Chicago website dedicated to abortion access went live on June 6, immediately drawing criticism from some right-to-life groups. The site, entitled Accessing Abortion in Illinois: A Guide for Health Care and Social Service Providers, has been criticized for some of its information and its accessibility to students.

The online guide, which is addressed to health-care and social service providers in Illinois, includes, among other things, a background on the prevalence of abortion, an overview of laws affecting abortion access in Illinois, a list of counseling options and resources, and help locating family planning clinics. It also has sub-pages on different types of abortion procedures, how to pay for an abortion, and links to care for patients with special considerations, such as victims of sexual assault or minors.

Illinois Right to Life released a statement criticizing the site on June 9, drawing attention from other right-to-life groups and publications, including sites such as College Fix, The Daily Caller, Illinois Review, Illinois Christian News, and others. In the statement, Executive Director Emily Zender criticized the guide for promoting one-sided information, specifically the guide’s negative characterization of crisis pregnancy centers and assurance of the safety of abortion.

“I was disappointed because for an educational institution the possibility is to offer facts and to encourage [students] to use those facts, and I thought this guide was deviating from that and preventing them from exercising all health-care options available to them,” Zender said in an interview with the Maroon.

Zender said that she is concerned that not only providers but also University of Chicago students will use the guide.  The guide notes that college-aged women are the largest percentage of individuals who obtain abortions each year, and there is no comparable guide for family-planning services published by the University and aimed specifically at students.

Rising third-year Cait Duggan, co-president of the RSO Students for Life, agreed that students would use the guide.

“We’re not sure how many students do seek abortions, but we believe that there is a population that do, so we think there will be students turning to this website,” she said. “By having this website [the University] is going to be able to facilitate abortions but it doesn’t seem like they’re going to be interested in helping students who want to keep their children.”

In a Maroon article from January 2013 (“After Roe, UCMC Gives Choice,” 1/25/13), Whitaker estimated that the Ryan Center Clinic performs approximately one abortion procedure for a student a month. An abortion procedure at the Ryan Center Clinic costs between $350$1,500, depending on the stage of the pregnancy, and U-SHIP, as well as many other health insurance plans, covers abortion.

University spokesperson Jeremy Manier asserted that the guide is not intended for students. The site, addressing health and social service providers in its title, does not offer direct advice to women with unplanned pregnancy.

The guide was funded by a New York–based national advocacy group, the National Institute for Reproductive Health, and was produced in partnership with the Institute’s Urban Initiative and two University departments: the Section of Family Planning and Contraceptive Research, and the Center for Interdisciplinary Inquiry and Innovation in Sexual and Reproductive Health.

The guide resulted from a roundtable discussion between more than 50 social service providers and other professionals in fall 2012 about abortion access in Chicago and reproductive justice.

“A point of consensus in that discussion was that Illinois health and social service providers lacked a reliable, comprehensive resource to help them navigate clinical, legal and financial barriers to abortion access in Illinois,” Amy Whitaker, assistant professor of obstetrics/gynecology at the University of Chicago Medicine, wrote in a statement.

“A guiding principle of the site is that health and social service providers should be able to offer patients comprehensive information about all of their options so that patients can make informed choices for themselves,” she added.

- Additional reporting by Ankit Jain