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The Abortion Clinic Evaluation Project
by Sharon Lieberman

The on-site evaluation of Chicago's abortion clinics was a pro-choice, feminist endeavor, beginning in 1973 with the founding of the Health Evaluation and Referral Service (HERS) by several women of the Chicago Women's Liberation Union. HERS responded to a need made apparent by the Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion: Where in Chicago were the medically competent, most humane providers and the most financially accessible services? At the time, a major goal was identify providers willing to accept Medicaid payment for abortion.

Cooperation and participation of freestanding women's health clinics - those self-identified as dedicated primarily to outpatient abortion services - with the consumer-led evaluations was voluntary. Pairs of HERS women would visit a clinic, looking for facility and care standards they could recommend. HERS produced several mimeographed lists and pamphlets of approved providers that were circulated among women's organizations and used as a referral list to direct women who phoned HERS for a referral, all without a fee. An essential aspect of the referral service was the solicitation of feedback from women who attended a referred clinic. All callers were asked to return an anonymous written evaluation from so that HERS could always be apprised of consumer responses to the approved clinics.

A 1978 combined undercover investigation by the Better Government Association and the Chicago Sun-Times revealed several large, exploitative abortion referral agencies and medically dangerous abortion practitioners in Chicago. In response, HERS formalized and structured the on-site evaluation: HERS and Planned Parenthood/Chicago Area (PP/CA) negotiated a cooperative activity of clinic evaluation to be conducted on a bi-annual basis. The two groups came to a written agreement on the minimum medical and counseling standards for an approved provider. The original HERS consumer-lead, feminist focused visits became professionalized.

The first cooperative evaluation commenced in 1981, with two representatives of HERS and two from PP/CA visiting clinics to which they were invited. PP/CA provided a physician, experienced in abortion procedures, who evaluated actual terminations. The major aspects of abortion provision - counseling, surgical procedure, aftercare, and clinic administration - were observed directly by each evaluation team member with an interest and/or credentials in that service. Fact-finding reports from the teams were evaluated separately by each organization (HERS and PP/CA), with each developing its own list, although most approved referral lists were similar. The combined effort, from inception to referral list, took about two years.

PP/CA removed itself from the evaluation project in 1984 when it purchased the Midwest Clinic. In becoming an abortion provider, PP/CA felt it could no longer officially participate in evaluating other Chicago clinics.

For the Clinic Evaluation Project of 1985-86, HERS secured funding and hired a part-time Evaluation Coordinator to carry out the second bi-annual cycle. The Chicago Community Trust underwrote development of evaluation instruments by The Chicago Associates for Social Research for each clinic service area observed by members of Evaluation Team.

The 1989-90 cycle took nearly three years to produce an approved provider list. It became more difficult to recruit and train volunteers willing to take the half-day needed to spend three hours at a clinic. Furthermore, the core of volunteer evaluators- many early HERS founders, supporters, and members -- from the earliest cycles had dispersed or moved on to other feminist activities; and, a certain complacency about abortion services was apparent within the pro-choice community.

A new corps of volunteers had to be recruited for the 1989-90 cycle. During this time, HERS encountered financial difficulties, closing its doors permanently in late 1990. The Chicago Abortion Fund recognized the value of the Clinic Evaluation Project to Chicago's women and so accepted its sponsorship until clinic visits were completed and an approved provider list was distributed in 1991.

The last of what was known as the "HERS" evaluation was conducted in 1995-97, sponsored by the Illinois Pro-Choice Alliance with funding from five local foundations. The HERS Abortion Clinic Evaluation was the country's only on-site evaluations of abortion clinics lead by an independent, non-profit, feminist, consumer organization.

Sharon Lieberman
was a member of the Abortion Clinic Evaluation Project.