Clinics Offer Free Abortions to Katrina Survivors

Two clinics in Arkansas are offering free abortions to Hurricane Katrina survivors. Jacqueline Froelich of member station KUAF reports that anti-abortion activists claim the clinics are preying on already vulnerable women. Clinic officials, however, say they're providing a public service otherwise unavailable due to flooding and evacuation.

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This is DAY TO DAY. I'm Alex Chadwick.

Hurricane Katrina destroyed many medical facilities in Louisiana, including clinics that perform abortions. So now abortion providers in both Arkansas and Texas are offering free abortions to Katrina survivors. That has really angered pro-life groups, who say the clinics are taking advantage of traumatized women. Jacqueline Froelich of member station KUAF in Fayetteville reports.


At two clinics in Arkansas and two in Texas, several dozen women have taken advantage of their free abortions. Fayetteville Women's Clinic obstetrician-gynecologist Dr. William Harrison says it's his way of delivering humanitarian aid.

Dr. WILLIAM HARRISON (Fayetteville Women's Clinic): We thought that there would probably be some women who had planned to have an abortion or were planning to have an abortion in Louisiana and, of course, that became impossible.

FROELICH: Impossible because six out of nine abortion clinics in Louisiana were destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. At his Fayetteville office, Dr. Harrison performs around 70 abortions a month, ranging from no charge up to $900 per procedure. So far he's done only one free abortion for an evacuee, a woman from Louisiana.

Dr. HARRISON: The one young woman we saw was a college student and she'll stay probably for this year and then go back to the college that she was attending.

FROELICH: But making such offers to women they say are vulnerable has enraged pro-life advocates like Jerry Cox, director of Arkansas Family Council in Little Rock.

Mr. JERRY COX (Arkansas Family Council): They've been separated from their families. They're certainly separated from their physician. And most of them are separated from their faith community, their minister or place of worship or whoever they look to. And so all those supports that are normally there when a person makes a life-changing decision have been swept away, and that's one of the reasons that we're concerned that the evacuees may, under these difficult circumstances, be tempted to make a decision that they will seriously regret for the rest of their lives.

FROELICH: And free abortions, says Lanier Swann of Concerned Women for America, are not humanitarian aid.

Ms. LANIER SWANN (Concerned Women for America): What they need is to be counseled. What they need is to be cared for, not to be encouraged to kill their unborn child before ever meeting him or her.

FROELICH: But abortion providers like Dr. Harrison say they always deliver counseling to patients, especially to pregnant hurricane survivors.

Dr. HARRISON: With the evacuees, if they come in and they are not satisfied with their decision, we will be talking with them a long time to make them comfortable. And if we don't feel that they're comfortable with their decision, we'll have them wait and think about it.

FROELICH: Pro-life groups hope that when these women do find their way back home, they will have decided to preserve their pregnancies. To make that easier, they're offering counseling as well as things like baby clothes, cribs and diapers.

For NPR News, I'm Jacqueline Froelich in Fayetteville, Arkansas.

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