Ex-PP managers on what it’s like inside

Sixth in the Voices to Trust series.

“You are saying things to yourself and others that you will never be able to get out of your head.”

Abby Johnson (photo: abbyjohnson.org)
Abby Johnson (photo: abbyjohnson.org)

Two women who spent years working for Planned Parenthood are now in the forefront of PP’s challengers. Abby Johnson and Sue Thayer started at Planned Parenthood believing that women’s health care would be the priority there; both eventually realized that it wasn’t.

Abby Johnson wrote Unplanned in 2011 to give her account of being an award-winning manager of a Texas Planned Parenthood facility and how she decided to leave the industry in 2009. She didn’t stop there. She founded And Then There Were None (abortionworker.com), seeking “to end abortion from the inside out” by assisting anyone seeking an exit from abortion work.

Sue Thayer (iowartl.org photo)
Sue Thayer (iowartl.org photo)

Sue Thayer worked for 17 years at Planned Parenthood in Iowa, eventually becoming a center’s manager. When PP began promoting telemed (webcam) abortions, she saw that making money had taken precedence over women’s health. Thayer began speaking about her PP experience, and she is a plaintiff in a multimillion-dollar Medicaid fraud case against her former employer. She recently joined the staff of Iowa Right to Life as lead strategist.

Johnson has written an open letter to abortion facility workers, saying “No one grows up wanting to work in an abortion clinic.” An excerpt:

“I thought that Planned Parenthood really believed in reducing the amount of unintended pregnancies; and therefore reducing the amount of abortions. I thought I was doing the right thing….I was rising up the Planned Parenthood corporate ladder. I was the Planned Parenthood 2008 “Employee of the Year.” This was my life. I loved my job. I loved the patients we served. I thought I was helping them. I know you do, too.

“Did I help women? Sure.…the woman who hadn’t had an exam in ten years, the woman who needed testing because her husband had been unfaithful, the woman who had never been checked for diabetes but was then diagnosed because we finally ran the test. I remember all of these women. I remember all of their stories…. I helped them receive the healthcare they needed, the healthcare they deserved. You know what else I remember? I remember the day I watched a 13-week old fetus fight for its life during an abortion procedure.

“I remember looking at the bodies of aborted babies while I accounted for their arms, legs, and head. I remember being able to determine if the baby was a boy or girl. How did I justify my work for so long? How are you doing it? I think I tried to really believe that I was doing the right thing…the right thing for those women. But what about those babies? …Didn’t they matter? Was it really ALL about the woman and her rights?

“I have learned now what I didn’t realize then. It is NOT just about the woman. Abortion is something that affects many people. Yes, it affects the woman; but it also affects the man involved, the extended family, and of course, the child growing in her womb. I saw abortion as something that was very one-sided…now I am able to see it as an issue that affects multiple people; multiple lives. It also affects your life as a clinic worker. You are witnessing things that are permanently damaging your mind. You are saying things to yourself and others that you will never be able to get out of your head.”

Thayer wrote an op-ed for the Washington Times in 2012 summarizing her concern over telemed abortions. An excerpt:

“In my mind, Planned Parenthood was the ‘trusted friend’ it claimed to be, educating and providing women with effective contraceptives so that abortion could be avoided….

“This all changed in 2008, when Planned Parenthood of Greater Iowa (now known as Planned Parenthood of the Heartland) required our clinic to begin ‘telemed abortions.’ Telemed abortion is the practice by which an abortion doctor from a remote location simply presses a button, which opens a drawer containing the dangerous abortion pill, after a brief teleconference call with the woman.

“Telemed abortion doesn’t only result in the death of an unborn child; it strips women of their dignity by denying them the courtesy of an in-person visit from a doctor concerned for their health and well-being. It risks their lives by sending them away with no support and a drug that has led to massive bleeding and hemorrhaging, infection and even death.

“So what does Planned Parenthood, the ‘trusted friend of women,’ love so much about telemed abortions? Low overhead costs.

“My superiors justified telemed abortions, lauding the financial benefits of not having to worry about or pay for specialized equipment, staff and a traveling physician – all required with surgical abortions.

“When I expressed my concerns, I was ‘let go,’ supposedly because of ‘downsizing.’

“The final veil had been lifted and Planned Parenthood’s big lie was exposed: Planned Parenthood is not about helping women access health care. Instead, it is about making money. And abortion is its moneymaker. Telemed abortion is its mega moneymaker.”

Johnson and Thayer eventually participated in 40 Days for Life campaigns outside their respective former facilities. Both of those PP facilities have since closed down.


 

Chemical abortion scores in court

Women’s health is going up against chemical abortion in courts this week. Health is taking a hit.

Courts to abortion providers: we’ve got your back 

Iowa’s Sue Thayer, former PP manager, is reporting today that an Iowa judge just granted an emergency stay on a new Iowa law that would have required a physician to be present with a woman on whom an abortion is being performed. The law, which would have blocked “telemed” chemical abortions, was to have gone into effect tomorrow. The case is Planned Parenthood of the Heartland, Inc. v. Iowa Board of Medicine. (“Heartland,” indeed. Orwell, call your office.)

Yesterday, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear a challenge to a lower-court ruling that overturned an Oklahoma law regulating the use of chemical abortion. The law would have required that abortion providers adhere to FDA protocol limiting chemical abortion, using drugs rather than surgery, to 49 days of pregnancy. The case is Cline v. Oklahoma Coalition for Reproductive Justice. 

Meanwhile, in Texas …

The new four-part Texas law made famous by a state senator’s effort to filibuster it to death is being challenged piecemeal. So far, the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals has allowed the law to go into effect. (See Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas Surgical Health Services v. Abbott.)

The most immediate effect of the Texas law seems to have been triggered by the law’s requirement that a physician performing abortions have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of the abortion facility. Over a dozen abortion facilities have reportedly closed down as a result of that provision. Abby Johnson, another ex-PP-manager, calls this a “Texas Size Victory.”

New Hampshire implications

Challenges to the manner of use of chemical abortion in New Hampshire have been administrative and judicial so far, not legislative.

As reported here in early September, pro-life physicians and civil liberties attorneys have urged the New Hampshire Boards of Medicine and Nursing to investigate Planned Parenthood’s advertising of chemical abortions through 63 days of pregnancy instead of the FDA protocol’s 49 days. As attorney Michael Norton from Alliance Defending Freedom said at that time,

No matter where people stand on abortion, everyone should agree that Planned Parenthood must abide by established FDA protocols for using a potentially dangerous drug. This includes requiring a licensed professional to personally meet with women and examining them before prescribing abortion-inducing drugs which pose serious health risks, and limiting the length of time it can be used…. [It is] important to hold healthcare providers to appropriate standards of care for women in New Hampshire in connection with the provision of drugs which result in abortions.

The October 29, 2013 edition of the New Hampshire Union Leader carried a front-page article reporting that New Hampshire Right to Life and two individual citizens from Cheshire County have gone to court over chemical abortions administered by Planned Parenthood of Northern New England. At issue: the 49-day limit, the right of PPNNE to prescribe any drug whatsoever in the absence of a state contract, and the practice of distributing the drug for at-home use rather than for administration in a physician’s office.

New Hampshire is in a different judicial circuit than Oklahoma, and so ruling on that state’s chemical-abortion law is not binding here. It does not augur well, though, when the U.S. Supreme Court lets a lower court throw out the Oklahoma law. This will no doubt have a chilling effect on efforts to regulate chemical abortions and monitor their effects on women’s health.

Chemical abortion: the wave of the future?

While I’ve been concerned that the lessons of Gosnell are already being forgotten in some quarters, late-term abortion restrictions are gaining ground in several states. If there’s one thing the Gosnell trial will be remembered for, it’ll be the images of those babies he tried to abort and then “snipped.” They looked just like … babies.

Chemical abortion, on the other hand, is much neater. The preborn children look less like children. The mother can’t feel the baby yet, as early in pregnancy as abortion drugs are supposed to be administered. The pills can be sent home with the mother, even in defiance of the law. Telemed abortions, in which a provider teleconferences with a mother before remotely unlocking a drawer to give the mother access to abortion pills, requires much less overhead than a surgical abortion facility. The drugs are relatively cheap. The mother bleeds and sheds her child into pads or her toilet at home, keeping the abortion-drug provider from having to deal with medical “waste.”

Now there’s a business model. No wonder abortion advocates go to court to fight regulations on chemical abortions.

(Fact: one of the nurse practitioners on staff at the abortion-providing Lovering Center in Greenland, New Hampshire did her Ph.D. dissertation on “Women’s Experience with Decision-making with Medication Abortion.”)

Medication/chemical; potato/potahto. Ironically, women’s experience with the outcome of “medication abortion” is something neither academic medicine nor public health can pin down, at least not in New Hampshire. No one collects reliable statistics on how many women choose drug-induced abortion or how many women experience poor outcomes as a result. The number of chemically-induced attempted abortions that “fail” and are then followed up with surgical abortion is a mystery as well. Abortion providers lobby against stats bills, and call opponents “anti-choice” for wanting data.

How is that not putting politics ahead of women’s health?