In April of 1991, Sue Thayer took a job with Planned Parenthood in the small community of Storm Lake, Iowa. She was against abortion, but she didn’t know Planned Parenthood was anything more than a health care facility. She was unaware of their focus on abortion.
“I thought it would be a great place to work in order to help women,” Thayer said. “I got an entry level job as a family planning assistant.”
Within a short period of time, the manager of the Planned Parenthood clinic, who was on maternity leave, decided not to return to the clinic. Thayer applied for the job. At the interview, the regional director of Planned Parenthood asked Thayer what she thought of Planned Parenthood’s surgical services.
Thayer replied that she was unaware of any surgical services and asked what the term meant. The director explained that Planned Parenthood does abortions at the Des Moines center. When asked what she thought of that, Thayer replied, “Well, it’s murder. It stops a beating heart.”
Certain she wouldn’t get the job, Thayer was surprised to learn that she was indeed promoted to manager of the Storm Lake clinic. Within the year, she would have to go to the Des Moines clinic and observe abortions. She recalls the experience:
That very first day she [a clinic worker] told me to stand by the door. I stood there and did what I was told, and I asked why. She said everyone who starts has to stand there on the first day because sometimes they faint.
I asked a lot of questions, like ,’Why is the room so dark?’ The doctor didn’t want anyone to see her face. The doctor doesn’t greet the patient. They never see her…
My own daughters were little, three and one, and I was horrified by what I saw. To this day, if I walk into a dentist office and hear the suction machine, it about brings me to my knees. The sight of the room, the darkness of it…sometimes, the patient is crying, sometimes stoic, sometimes unsure.
The noise of the suction machine… a large gallon jar that goes to the dirty lab – the POC [products of conception] lab – they take that big jar and dump it into a colander. They would rinse the contents with a big hose and dump it in a glass jar over the sink, and put a big light over it and sort through to make sure they got all the parts before the patient could leave. And they would flush it all down like a big toilet and then go onto the next patient.
Thayer went back to work at the Planned Parenthood in Storm Lake, ready to help stop abortion by working to prevent unplanned pregnancies. She visited schools to talk about family planning, and the Planned Parenthood center flourished.
But in 2002, a deceased infant was found at the town’s recycling center. As part of the investigation, the sheriff’s department subpoenaed records from the high school, as well as health clinics, including Planned Parenthood. According to Thayer, everyone turned over the records, except for Planned Parenthood.
The story went national after Planned Parenthood told the press that to release those records would mean thousands of women were going to lose their rights to medical privacy. But Thayer knew that wasn’t true. She knew that there weren’t even a thousand patients at the Storm Lake Planned Parenthood. But that didn’t matter. Donations for Planned Parenthood came in from around the country, and a national debate on the privacy of medical records began.
“That was the first time I thought something was amiss,” said Thayer. “I wondered why were they doing this. I became suspicious.”
In 2007, Planned Parenthood announced they were going to start providing tele-med or “webcam” abortions. That was the last straw for Thayer. She began attending the manger meetings and voicing her opinion, saying what a bad idea it was.
She needed the job, the money and the benefits, but they were going to send her, a non-medical staff member, to learn how to do transvaginal ultrasounds – a job that Thayer says is not even appropriate for a nurse who isn’t a properly trained ultrasound technician. In addition, Planned Parenthood didn’t want anyone to know they were planning to do webcam abortions, and the staff was sworn to secrecy until 500 to 1000 procedures were performed.
Angry and frustrated, Thayer continued her work, but she started to bring a radio into the clinic and play the Christian radio station. One day, the station interviewed members of Iowa Right to Life. Thayer knew she needed to call them because they would know whether webcam abortions were even legal or not. She didn’t tell the radio station employees her name, but she emailed them documentation about the webcam abortions.
Thayer was fired.
Planned Parenthood offered her a severance package. After a lawyer reviewed it, Thayer learned that if she signed, she would get a nice lump of money, but she would have to forever remain silent about Planned Parenthood. She wouldn’t even be able to confirm or deny ever having worked for the company. She refused to sign.
Instead, Thayer went to Iowa Right to Life and told them everything that goes on at Planned Parenthood.
“Two years later,” Thayer said, “I met this retired missionary and he said, ‘Tell me what goes on at PP.’ I said, ‘Are you sure you want to know?’ So I told him what a webcam abortion is and […] he was mortified that it was happening right there in town. We had a meeting with five or six pro-lifers and they were shocked. They wanted to do something.”
The group ended up registering for 40 Days for Life, but were nervous about having enough people to cover the 12 to 24 hours of peaceful prayer outside the clinic for 40 days. The night before the first vigil, they held a rally outside the clinic. Despite normally having winds up to 40 miles per hour, it was a surprisingly calm evening. They lit candles and prayed, and Thayer was surprised to see people arrive to sign up for the 40 Days.
The next morning, Thayer went to the clinic to pray and asked God if she could just pray from her car.
“I knew when the workers would come,” she said. “”I didn’t want to see any of the people I worked with”
But Thayer knew she must face them. So for the next 40 days, Thayer and her one-year-old daughter spent a lot of time outside the clinic, praying and talking to the staff, as well as spreading the word that abortions were happening there.
Thayer became the first former Planned Parenthood staffer to ever join 40 Days for Life. And a few months later, Planned Parenthood announced the closure of the Storm Lake clinic.
Now, Thayer speaks against abortion, including on a webcast for 40 Days for Life and at an event for Iowa Right to Life. She said she is happy to share her story and expose Planned Parenthood.
Thayer’s courage is helping to save innocent lives.
Editor’s Note: To check out previous Life of the Week articles, go here:
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