Note: Our executive director recently visited a recently closed abortion clinic in Columbus. The following content and images may be difficult for some individuals to read or view. If you have an abortion in your past and would like to be connected to a healing program, visit our local guide to post-abortion resources. If you are pregnant and would like an alternative to abortion, there are several places to get help. Lastly, if you have taken the first dose of the abortion pill regimen and would like to talk to someone about saving your pregnancy, please call the 24/7 helpline immediately at: 1-877-558-0333.
Just a little over eight years ago, I accepted the position of Executive Director of Greater Columbus Right to Life. I voiced one tangible goal: to see the Founder’s abortion clinic, Ohio’s first abortion clinic, close. When we mumble and groan about the very real challenges of 2020, we should never fail to give thanks for the fact that Ohio’s first abortion clinic shut down.
Most GCRTL supporters are familiar with what happened on January 22, at the Cathedral and the Statehouse. What you may not know is that on January 21, I had a discussion with our landlord about our office space not being available after the lease period was up. The Roe event serves as a memorial, and in that spirit, I drove by Founder’s on my way home from the Statehouse. I nearly drove my car off the road when I saw that it had a “for sale” sign in the yard. The sign says, “Greater Columbus R…ealty,” but every time I drive by, I see “Greater Columbus Right to Life.”
The last few weeks have been remarkably busy. I’ve been working with law enforcement, legal authorities, and State officials regarding what was permitted to happen and handling the overwhelming response to what happened. We’ve kicked off our 40 Days for Life Campaign and preparing to announce our banquet under current pandemic standards. We’ve restarted hybrid sessions of trainings on sidewalk ministry and end-of-life ethics. I’ve also been packing up our office and looking at available commercial real estate listings.
I’ve also been to Founder’s abortion clinic. It’s a place I’ve been to hundreds of times, but for the first (and second) time ever – I went inside.
My first visit to Founder’s was difficult. I scheduled it intentionally for a time and date that I knew I could leave and immediately go to Mass and a Holy Hour. I brought a bottle of Holy Water sourced from the healing well of the 5th Apparition of Our Lady of Guadalupe that I brought back from a GCRTL pilgrimage in 2016.
When we walked in, the first thing I saw was that the message “You’re Safe” had been chalked over the door. Given what I saw inside, this could not have been less true.
When we entered, we paused to offer a prayer for all those who had been killed and wounded there – that they find peace and healing. For all who had worked or volunteered there. For all who had stood outside and offered prayers, sung hymns, and offered assistance. We also prayed that we might be guided to do God’s will in this and everything.
In terms of impressions, I had a few. The first is that the inside was one of the most unprofessional looking places I’ve ever been. Almost every room was a mismatch of garish colors. Most of the rooms looked as though they had purchased mis-tints of paint and painted when needed. A few looked to have newer paint in colors making a mockery of femininity – neon green and bright pinks and purples reminiscent of Barbie’s Dream House. Several rooms featured semi-motivational quotes on the wall and gel-cling hearts on the windows. One of the most unintentionally (or possibly intentionally) ironic stickers said, “Life is Beautiful.”
My second impression was that the facility was filthy. I don’t mean the kind of dust that accumulates in a building that has been unused for a few months. I mean the kind of filth that accumulates when people just simply do not care. In several places, condensation had gathered around dirty heating vents, leaving muddy brown drips inches long on the walls. The carpets were soiled beyond belief, especially those in rooms marked “employees only.” The tile was so dirty that our realtor indicated it could not be salvaged.
The building itself appeared rather solid and surprisingly sound. Nonetheless, the overall conditions of how things were maintained as well as the original use means that extensive renovation will be required before any reputable entity takes over the building. Apparently there have been two entities who have expressed an interest in the building: us and some women who said they work in “women’s health.”
I thought it might be useful to walk our readers through the facility. For some, it might be cathartic. For others it will be disturbing. Please note the disclaimer used above: this could be disturbing. Photos have been included at the end in roughly the same order that they are described in this article.
To enter the building, one walks up a few steps under a dark awning and into a dimly lit waiting room. The waiting room is long and narrow. A walled off reception desk and a door separate the waiting room from the rest of the clinic. Aside from the drabness and the dirtiness, it could pass for an ordinary clinic. Once a woman passed through that area, we believe she would normally have been taken upstairs to the second floor for the informed consent portion of her appointment. Ohio law requires that any woman seeking to have an abortion go through a surgical informed consent appointment at least 24 hours before her abortion, whether it is surgical or medical. On the second floor are various consultation rooms, what looks like a conference room, and several heavily secured rooms that look like they may have been used to store medicines or personal property of employees. There is a room marked “laboratory,” with cabinets and shelves but no sink. Another area appears to have been an employee break room with a kitchenette and a large chalk board. A small room was labeled as a records room, and the biggest area appears to have had the doctors’ office and computer and data areas in it. Dr. Schaeffer left behind several professional certificates that are still hanging on the wall. Post-it-notes in at least one consultation room indicate numbers to Pre-term in Cleveland and Women’s Med in Dayton. Both facilities offer later-term procedures and could have been used to refer women who had a pregnancy beyond ten weeks or for whom the abortion pill did not work to a surgical clinic once the facility lost its surgical license. Before Founder’s closed forever it had operated for a few months as a non-surgical clinic.
The first floor was most likely used predominantly for abortion procedures, especially when the clinic was operating surgically. In addition to the long, narrow waiting room, the first floor featured two smaller offices, a suite of restrooms, four procedure rooms, a products of conception room, and another long room designated as a recovery space. There was also an emergency exit door and an entrance into the basement. In the basement, we found abandoned surgical gowns and carts. There was a large modern cistern and a very large amount of cleaning supplies for a facility that did not appear to be dedicated to keeping things clean.
The four procedure rooms were smallish and clustered in a square around a smaller room marked as the “products of conception” room. The overall filth of the conditions meant that you could clearly see the outline of where gynecological tables were positioned as well as the outlines of what were probably either instrument carts or a suction machine. Chains attached to the wall in one room most likely held oxygen and nitrous oxide canisters up for safety. I walked into one of the procedure rooms and I could see what appeared to be blood spatter and caked-on dirt and blood on the floor. I remembered a line from one of the inspection reports, “a heavy layer of dirt and grime coated the table.” The walls throughout the facility were soiled with what looked to be food and drink splatters, especially in the waiting and recovery area. In one of the recovery areas, there appeared to be a partially formed handprint of a rusty brown material. I presumed it was blood, but it may have been another substance. At the doors of the procedure room, in the hallways, and in the recovery rooms there were ammonia inhalants taped to the walls every few feet. At least one of them had what appeared to be droplets of blood on them.
As an aside, it is very surprising that the smelling salts were still set out in a clinic that (allegedly) hadn’t been performing surgical procedures for more than six months before shutting down.
The last room that should be noted in any tour of the clinic is the so-called “Products of Conception” room. It should be noted that our knowledge of what the rooms were used for is based on the nameplates used on the rooms themselves, the blueprints for the building, anecdotal information from previous patients and a few former employees, the obvious equipment in the room, and the common use in other abortion clinics.
Most people probably know the Productions of Conception (or POC) room from stories from people like Abby Johnson or exposés such as those done by the Center for Medical Progress. There is no easy way to state this, but generally a POC room is where the fetal remains and uterine contents are taken following a surgical abortion. In some places, staff may be asked to review the contents to see that all contents of the uterus were removed during the abortion procedure. Leaving behind any content increases the risk of complications like sepsis or hemorrhage. In most rooms, the fetal remains will be emptied from a container, possibly inspected, and prepared for disposal. When Founder’s held a surgical license, a bio-waste company would come on Thursdays and cart out boxes of red bio-waste bags. Those were always sad and sobering days.
I was prepared when I walked into the POC room that it would be sad and sobering. I was not prepared for it to smell so actively of death and decay. This was especially surprising given that the room was not legally used for surgical abortions in at least a year.
The room itself had a small working table immediately across from the door. Next to it was a metal sink that looked very much like a hand-washing sink. Next to it was a device most people are not familiar with, known as a hopper or a sluice. A sluice is used in surgical settings to dispose of liquid medical waste such as blood and maybe urine. In some clinics, the remains of very early terminated pregnancies are reported to be flushed down these systems. There also appeared to be a hose system that very much looked like one of the older-style bedpan rinsing hoses. On the side and opposite walls were several sets of wall shelves. I would imagine that these were used to hold onto blood, urine, and fetal remains until they were disposed of.
It was not easy to walk through the space, nor was it easy to share here. I went to Mass and then spent some time in a Holy Hour, grieving. To be honest, my job is sort of a perpetual mourning for those lost to abortion and those hurt by it. I think that it is important for anyone who is engaged in a pro-life mission to embrace the reality of that grief and work through it on a regular basis. This was different though, and it is hard to explain. I ran into a friend leaving Church. He could tell I was a bit disconcerted, and as I tried to explain why, he proffered a the very manly advice of, “Why be sad about something you can’t change.”
This, of course, was a well-meaning if unhelpful thing to say in that moment. What I could not express at the time but have spent several hours pontificating upon in my head is that grief is an appropriate response to evil. If you believe that evil is real, and if you believe that the unborn person is fully human, what could be more evil than the places where human persons are intentionally targeted for death by the cruelty of abortion? First they are disenfranchised, then dismembered, and finally disposed of and dismissed. I beg to God that I am never not moved to grief by the presence of evil in our world and that I am always moved to respond to it in a way that is guided by His hand.
It may be hard to think of redeeming such a space, but how powerful would that be? Imagine if you will, a life-affirming center with a meaningful memorial to those precious unborn who lost their lives there, a place where moms and dads can pay tribute to their own children lost to the lies of abortion, and a center where we train and equip the next generation of fearless and faithful pro-life advocates and incubate new organizations that form to fill the gaps in what we do. I can see knocking down the walls of the procedure room and turning it into a chapel and a memorial, such as has been done in other places.
Unfortunately, when we learned last June that the clinic was closing, the property had already been listed and was in contract for a cash-offer sale. As the weeks and months passed, I watched the property formerly known as Founder’s, curious to see who would move in. There was no sign of anyone moving in, no sign of anyone taking over, and no indication that the building was being modified or renovated. I did some property searches and found the name of the organization that had bought the building. An online search suggested that the new business may be in some legal trouble, and I wondered briefly if it was no coincidence. I did not investigate it any more until the night of January 22nd when I drove by after the disruption at the Cathedral and the Roe Remembrance and learning that we would need to find a new office location.
It turns out that the business that purchased the property carried on the legacy of breaking the law and taking advantage of the vulnerable. It has a very serious indictment against it, and the building was seized and is being sold by a federal prosecutor.
Purchasing, renovating, and maintaining the building would probably cost between $750,000 and a million dollars. It is not feasible for us without the intervention of some very motivated and generous donors to purchase it on our behalf. In the interim, we will be looking to look for new office location(s) around central Ohio as we continue to grow and serve.
How can you help?
If you are reading this far, I imagine that you have a heart for the pro-life cause. If you are a person with a heart to see Ohio’s first abortion clinic set to life-affirming use or are motivated to invest in some real estate for the cause, give me a call. For others, I invite you to consider how you can use this time of preparation before Easter to give of yourself to meet the pro-life mission. We are actively looking for people who can pray with us, volunteer in another capacity, or partner with us for financial support of our mission. Consider offering up an hour of your time to pray during 40 Days for Life, fast for a day to end abortion, or simply open wide your heart to the beauty of God’s gift of Life.
Note: These photos are the property of Greater Columbus Right to Life and they may not be used in any format without express written approval of the organization.