The pretty butterfly landing on a flower was the logo of Project Choice, a national survey of abortion providers designed to catalog the continuing harassment of these doctors and the impact it has had on their lives. Of the 961 surveys mailed, 285 were completed, a return rate of 30 percent — remarkable for this type of research. Unfortunately, Project Choice was a cover for the anti-choice organization Life Dynamics, based in Lewisville, Texas.
Life Dynamics is renowned for its pamphlet Bottom Feeder: The Abortionists' Jokebook, which was mailed to 30,000 medical students across the nation. Bottom Feeder is a crudely drawn 16-page booklet filled with jokes fitting the description of adolescent to scatological. Typical is:
Mark Crutcher, president of Life Dynamics, was quoted in The Observer as saying that no one cared about the jokes when they were just about lawyers, but "the second you make them about the slime of the earth, everybody gets excited."
It is difficult to envision a group that printed Bottom Feeder as being the authors of Project Choice. Ostensibly, this survey, called "The Abortion Provider: A Self Analysis," was conducted by a group of Texas students who were trying to do something about day-in, day-out harassment of doctors. The story was they had applied to a foundation for a grant and the foundation was supposedly making them conduct the survey to prove there was harassment and to assure itself that the students were worthy of funding. Major pro-choice organizations were contacted asking for help with names. Some groups were suspicious, but almost 1,000 surveys were eventually mailed in January 1993.
The survey was conducted professionally. Four days after the survey packets, complete with self-addressed stamped envelopes, were received, a follow-up call was made to the recipient. Eventually, a follow-up postcard was mailed urging completion. By early February, Life Dynamics judged they had received all the surveys they would get and began tabulating the results.
The survey was divided into four parts: Profile, Motivation, Social Environment, and Harassment and Violence. The Profile section asked basic demographic questions such as age, sex, marital status, number of children living at home, and religion. The not-surprising result of this section was that abortion-providing doctors are somewhat older than the average age of physicians in the U.S.
The results from the Motivation section probably explain this statistic. Seventy-one percent of providers answered yes to the question, "Did you ever personally see a tragedy as a result of an illegal abortion?" (Ron Fitzsimmons, executive director of the National Coalition of Abortion Providers, reported in The Body Politic that many doctors stay in practice because they remember what it was like before abortion was legal.) Concern over illegal abortion was reported as a motivating factor for 67 percent of physicians, but 42 percent said that financial compensation received for providing abortions is not sufficient to encourage the continuation of services.
Questions in the Social Environment section attempted to ascertain how doctors who provide abortions are viewed within their profession. Sixty-five percent said they have felt ostracized because of their work. Half of the doctors reported having problems keeping or recruiting staff because they did abortions. Physicians were also asked if they thought there was a shortage of providers. Even though 80 percent answered yes, only 20 percent would agree that non-physicians should be allowed to do the procedure.
The answer to the question, "Has any aspect of the abortion procedure ever caused you concern?" elicited a 38 percent yes. From this Project Choice concludes "that the moral concerns abortion providers have about performing abortions is an internal phenomenon brought on by the nature of the act itself, and are not directly related to anti-abortion activity."
The Harassment and Violence section gives Operation Rescue adherents comfort. Even among providers who had not personally experienced harassment, over 20 percent said that anti-abortion activity has caused them to consider quitting. Eight percent who had not been harassed said this type of activity has had a negative impact on their family. As a response to the harassment, doctors reported feeling everything from anger (75 percent) to thoughts of suicide (two percent) and drug use (one percent). It remains to be seen how Life Dynamics will use this survey.
Mr. Crutcher said that Bottom Feeder and Project Choice are part of a seven-pronged attack on physicians. Another project is the 800 Club. Anyone belonging to this group gets a list of toll-free numbers of abortion providers across the country. The club's literature states, "Obviously, some pro-life activists may choose to repeatedly call these numbers for the purpose of harassing these doctors, or creating what might be called an 'electronic rescue' of the abortion mill." The literature cautions that businesses do get an activity report that allows them to identify who called during the previous month.
Only time will tell what other "four shoes" Life Dynamics plans to drop on physicians and their staff.
Anne Bower is the editor of The Body Politic, a pro-choice magazine based in Binghamton, New York. Reprinted with permission from The Body Politic.