As I write this, my friends and I are celebrating that Hillcrest Women’s Medical Center has been closed for more than a week.
Who would celebrate that?! It sounds like a lovely place: Hillcrest Women’s Medical Center.
It was a wretched place.
As a staunch pro-life advocate and sidewalk counselor, I’ve always opposed any business doing abortions. Even in the best of conditions, abortion facilities are the place of nightmares. They are places where death is palpable. Hillcrest was not the best of conditions.
Hillcrest was among the most disgusting abortion facilities that I’ve ever seen.
Unlike the pristine exterior at many abortion facilities, Hillcrest was filthy on the outside. The exterior white brick had grown grey over forty-two years without a paint job. The grounds were unkempt, with grass growing as tall as an average adult’s waist. The fence around sections of the property had huge gaps where planks had been blown out of place and were never fixed. The parking lot was filled with pot-holes and an exposed drainage pipe threatened the tires of anyone unaware of its presence. Some windows had been painted over with cream-colored paint, but now that paint was peeling off. The peeling paint clung to parts of the window giving it an altogether ghastly appearance.
When I first saw the building, it gave off a sense of abandonment.
Not only did it seem like the building had been abandoned, it always seemed like the women going there were being abandoned. Hillcrest was open twice each week to do abortions. They didn’t open for anything else. Each week anywhere from ten to thirty women were brought there to buy abortions.
While I’ve never been inside Hillcrest, the reports I’ve read indicate that it was also filthy. Google reviews for Hillcrest included horrifying details about the interior of the business. One woman said that she wouldn’t let her cat come here for any services, much less herself.
Another woman left Hillcrest after initially planning to have an abortion there. She told me and the other sidewalk counselors with Undefeated Courage that, “You can hear a woman screaming in there.” We were shocked that the surgical procedure room was so close to the waiting room that the noise could carry over. “Yeah,” the woman continued, with a shocked look on her face, “the girl’s mom is in the waiting room crying.”
Hillcrest was horrible inside and out.
The State of Pennsylvania knew this for a long time. Since 2011, Hillcrest has failed four inspections and every supervisory visit by the Department of Health. Despite these failures, Hillcrest was permitted to continue without being fined. Even after a woman died there in 1996, Hillcrest continued doing abortions.
Some of the more egregious failures documented in the Department of Health inspection report include:
Not having a board-certified OB/GYN doctor.
Not having a Registered Nurse to assist women before and after the surgical procedure.
Not giving background checks to staff who were interacting with girls under 18 years old.
Having medications out in the open where anyone could access them.
Having unsterilized equipment stored in paper “yellow with age.”
Having medications which have been outdated since 2004.
Being on the sidewalk, I didn’t know all of these details about the sordid conditions inside. What I could see was a gross indifference from the abortion provider for the women going there. Dr. Delhi Thweatt traveled up from Maryland twice a week to do abortions. He would often finish all the abortions in less than an hour and drive away before the patients were even done recovering.
Once, Dr. Thweatt had to walk out to his car to get something. He came out in his scrubs and walked to his car at the same time a woman was walking to her car after having an abortion. This woman was not looking well. She was moving very slowly and was clutching her abdomen as she walked across Dr. Thweatt’s path.
Dr. Thweatt didn’t look at her twice as he walked around her to his car. He got whatever paperwork he needed and then walked right past her again. (She had barely made any progress towards her own car.) Dr. Thweatt ignored the hurting woman as he hurried back to finish his work.
Women were not cared for at Hillcrest. It was not a good place for anyone to go. That’s why my friends and I are celebrating that it is closed.
After years of knowing about Hillcrest’s failures, the Department of Health finally ordered them to close on June 6th, 2017. While Hillcrest may one day reopen, we are hopeful that they will not. No woman, no matter what her circumstances, ever needs a place like Hillcrest.
Rather than going to Hillcrest, women can find help and support in the Midstate by going to places like Morning Star, Life Choices, or the Susquehanna Valley Pregnancy Services location closest to them. The people at these places care about women. They are not filled with unsterilized equipment or staffed by unqualified people from Maryland. These are places of hope, healing, and love.
Today I am celebrating the fact that women are not being hurt at Hillcrest. I will continue working to make sure that women find the care and support that they need to choose life. That is my pursuit.