By Cheryl Sullenger
Last week, Operation Rescue reported that Rick Van Thiel, a Las Vegas man who had learned to do abortions by watching YouTube videos, had committed suicide in jail while awaiting trial.
Van Thiel was a troubled man with no medical background, who operated an exceedingly dangerous underground abortion business out of a shabby trailer parked in his back yard. He was a five-time convicted felon in California and Nevada on charges related to battery, assault, burglary and robbery. He had also been heavily involved in the pornography business.
In the quack abortion business, Van Thiel found new opportunities. He advertised for patients on Craig’s List and on seedy “adult” websites using patient testimonials raving about the “unbeatable prices” of his $200 abortions, which he referred be paid in silver due to his distrust of the federal government. He claimed to be a “sovereign” who was not subject to state or federal laws.
He also claimed to be able to cure any STD, including AIDS, and even performed dentistry such as tooth extractions.
But despite his life of crime, perversion, and quackery, Van Thiel’s suicide was an indication he may have suffered from mental health disorders.
This raises the subject of mental illness, addiction, and suicide that have been known to occur with alarming frequency among abortion workers.
Here are some examples:
• 1991: Former abortion clinic director Deborah Fleming, of San Diego, CA committed suicide after years of work at a politically radical abortion facility. Fleming, who I knew personally, shot herself in the head after despondency over the loss of her baby, who died from meconium inhalation during a home birth. Years of work in an abortion clinic taught her to distrust abortionists – and all doctors – causing her to delay seeking medical care for her infant until it was too late.
• 1993: Donald Clyde Willis was depressed over a difficult divorce. One night, as he sat in a park behind his Oregon home, he put a gun to his forehead and pulled the trigger. Surprisingly, he survived. After he was well enough, Willis spent three months confined to a mental hospital. He later moved from Oregon to California, where he continues to conduct abortions at a facility in Bakersfield.
• Early 2000’s: Albert R. Brown was an abortionist who is best known for dumping the remains of 54 aborted babies aged 8-24 weeks gestation in a field in Chino Hills, California. After an 18-month investigation, on October 11, 1998, the babies were later interred by a group of pro-life activists at Crestlawn Memorial Park in Riverside. Brown’s medical license was revoked in 1999, and sometime later, he committed suicide.
• 2014: Kimberly Marion Walker struggled with mental illness her entire adult life. When she was taking her medications and undergoing regular therapy, she was functional, but when she went off her meds, she suffered the full effects of Bipolar Disorder with psychosis, schizophrenia, and paranoia. Walker was a medical school graduate, but because of her mental instability, she had difficulty obtaining a medical license. That did not seem to bother New Jersey abortion chain owner Steven Chase Brigham, who hired Walker to train in doing abortions. Despite her involvement with Brigham’s illicit abortion business, she was granted a conditional license to practice in Maryland in February 2013, but by October of that year, she had gone off her meds again in violation of her licensing conditions. Her license was revoked in December 2013. Two weeks later, Walker was found dead at the age of 36 from a self-inflicted gunshot to the head.
The issue of mental illness within the Abortion Cartel is a serious one that affects patient safety.
Whether abortion attracts the mentally ill, or exacerbates existing issues due to the grisly, morally repugnant nature of the work is a matter of debate, and I am far from an expert on the subject. However, it appears from my anecdotal research at Operation Rescue to be a combination of the two cases.
So why are those with obvious mental health issues attracted to the business of abortion? I sought to answer that question, at least in part, in my book, The Trial of Kermit Gosnell (2017, World Ahead Press).
Mental health disorders figured prominently in the 2013 Gosnell trial, which I attended. There, I heard first-hand the testimony of Gosnell’s clinic workers, many of which were diagnosed with mental disorders, and some admitted they suffered from addiction.
“It stands to reason that there are many more mentally unfit or addicted workers currently staffing abortion clinics around America,” I wrote in The Trial of Kermit Gosnell. “This issue is yet another argument in favor of greater accountability for abortion providers and businesses, as if the crimes of Kermit Gosnell are not enough.”
The following is a relevant excerpt from that book that discussed the prevalence of mental disorders suffered by Gosnell and his employees.
The Gosnell trial highlighted a little discussed yet extremely troubling aspect that appears to be relatively common throughout the abortion cartel, and that is the problem of mental illness. Gosnell sought out employees among those with little education who were in desperate circumstances, and in some cases, suffering from mental illness and/or substance abuse. Gosnell would take them in, treat them as patients, perhaps house them, and create in them a sense of dependency on him. In this way, he could exert control over them and keep them working long hours under the most horrendous of conditions.
Elizabeth Hampton, a foster sister to Gosnell’s third wife, Pearl, had testified she suffered from depression and anxiety in addition to alcohol abuse, and that she once had a “nervous breakdown.” She attempted to sever ties with Gosnell’s business after her involvement in a traumatic episode there that caused her to relapse into alcoholism. She was pressured by the Gosnell’s to return to work at the clinic, and she eventually succumbed to that pressure “out of obligation,” even though she hated the work. Liz lived rent-free in one of Gosnell’s homes and had her paychecks filtered through Pearl. Even her common-law husband, Jimmy, relied on the Gosnell’s for employment. This placed Liz’s life almost completely under Gosnell’s control.
Sherry West was also financially desperate and admitted to mental health issues, including an anxiety disorder for which she was medicated with Prozac. Like Liz, she also experienced a “nervous breakdown.” She was essentially unemployable—except at Kermit Gosnell’s abortion business. West had a deep loyalty to Gosnell and attempted to defend him even from the witness stand.
Lynda Williams could aptly be described as a basket case. She met Gosnell while working at an abortion clinic in Delaware where Gosnell conducted abortions on a part-time basis. After the murder of her husband, she found herself in a financially desperate situation. She admitted to suffering from mental illnesses, including bipolar disorder, an anxiety disorder, and depression that caused her to be heavily medicated with at least three kinds of drugs. Gosnell took her in and was treating her as a patient, prescribing drugs for her mental conditions. She soon developed a dependency on Gosnell for her drugs and her livelihood, which led her to adamantly defend his practices. She repeatedly told police he did nothing wrong.
Steven Massof was a misfit with an inordinate fascination with abortions, particularly the late-term variety. He earned a medical degree in a third-world Caribbean nation that lacked the same medical standards as found in the US. After failing to qualify for a residency in America, Massof agreed to work long hours for low wages for the opportunity to abort late-term babies. While undiagnosed, I highly suspected from his strange demeanor in court and ghoulish fascination (or perhaps obsession) with later abortions that he also suffered some kind of mental illness. He, too, fell under Gosnell’s control, but to a lesser degree than some of the women.
. . .
But mental illness amongst abortion workers is a phenomenon that is not confined only to Gosnell’s abortion staff. Abortion facilities experience high rates of employee turnover due to the grisly nature of the business. This has made abortion businesses willing to hire workers that legitimate medical practices would never consider. Because abortion businesses must repeatedly draw from a very shallow pool of workers, abortion facilities are often staffed with poorly educated workers who find it difficult to obtain employment elsewhere. Some of them are plagued with addiction issues and/or mental health conditions.
In addition, abortionists with addiction and psychological problems tend to gravitate to the abortion business, probably because they can continue to work and even flourish at abortion clinics where there is very little accountability. While their deteriorating mental conditions and physical skills would be noticed and reported at a legitimate medical practice, at abortion clinics they may go without notice.
The Trial of Kermit Gosnell: Shocking Details and What It Revealed About the Abortion Industry in America is available at Amazon.com.