In her hometown of Storm Lake, Iowa, Sue Thayer still runs into women who ask her if she remembers them.
If she replies that she does not, oftentimes the women will remind her: “You helped me get my abortion.”
Sometimes, she said, women will tell her that she referred them for an abortion that they didn’t go through with.
“But they never say: ‘I didn’t get the abortion, and I wish I had,’” she said.
Thayer, who spent 18 years as the manager of a Planned Parenthood clinic in Storm Lake, shared her story of conversion with attendees at the 40 Days for Life Kickoff Rally in Sheboygan on Feb. 14. Thayer is now the director of outreach for the national 40 Days for Life organization.
Her work for Planned Parenthood “is a fact I’m not really proud of, but it’s proof positive that God can use anybody,” she said.
“I did a lot of bad things there. I started for the wrong reasons, and I stayed for the wrong reasons. I sold abortions, I did sexuality education in the schools,” she said. “I would really come between a teen and their parents and tell them, ‘You can come in, we’ll never tell anybody that you’ve been there.’”
When she was managing the clinic in Storm Lake, Thayer said, she truly believed she was helping women. As part of her training for management of the clinic, she had to spend a day observing surgical abortions. The experience was harrowing, she told the crowd gathered at the Knights of Columbus Hall.
“If you’ve ever seen graphic pictures (of abortion victims) on the sidewalks, it’s that bad,” she said. “It’s really a thousand times worse in person because there’s the sound and the smell, and the noise that the women make in the recovery room.”
After observing several dozen abortions that day — and assisting in piecing back together the disassembled limbs of the babies afterward — she said she convinced herself that the contraception and “sexuality education” aspects of her work at Planned Parenthood were especially important, in order to prevent the “need” for abortions themselves. And because her clinic was only a “family planning” clinic, which made referrals for abortions, she felt somehow removed from participation in it.
Before long, she began to feel uncomfortable with even referring for abortions. “We had the goals, or quotas, for numbers (of abortions) done (that Planned Parenthood wanted clinics to meet),” she said. “Women would come in for a pregnancy test and we would tell them it’s positive, and they would be really upset. And we would say, ‘Well, how much are you able to pay today?’ And if they would say, ‘Well, I can’t pay anything today,’ we would say, ‘Well, how are you going to take care of a baby? Have you priced diapers? Do you know how much a car seat is?’ And I would have the abortion paperwork ready to slide across the desk.”
She would eventually be fired from the clinic after refusing to participate in “webcam abortions,” whereby a doctor at a separate clinic would prescribe chemical abortion pills to Planned Parenthood clients in rural locations like Storm Lake. “I learned it’s not easy or fun to get fired, but if you have to have that happen to you, Planned Parenthood is a good place to be fired from,” she said.
Eventually, she would go on to organize a 40 Days for Life vigil outside of the Storm Lake clinic she previously managed, which eventually closed in 2012. Thayer joined the staff of 40 Days for Life in 2018. Now she travels around the country speaking about her conversion, and her visit to Sheboygan was part of a swing through the state of Wisconsin that included stops at Waukesha, Madison and Green Bay vigils.
“It’s healing for me. It’s redemptive,” she told the Catholic Herald about sharing her story. “Sometimes I have no idea why, but I will just spontaneously burst into tears while I’m talking. I really did do a lot of horrible things, but God does forgive and I know that I’m forgiven by him.”
Germaine Souik, organizer of the Sheboygan 40 Days for Life vigil, said Thayer’s story emphasizes the vigil’s hope for the conversion of hearts in the abortion industry.
“We’re out there praying for their conversion — not just to save babies, but to save their moms and dads from the pain of the repercussions of having an abortion — and to try to get those workers to take a look at what Planned Parenthood is really about, too,” she said.
The Sheboygan 40 Days for Life vigil began in 2018 and is held on South Taylor Avenue, outside a Planned Parenthood clinic that performs abortions.
“It’s so easy when you’re out there for the doubt to creep in, for you to think, ‘I’m not making a difference here, it’s freezing, my toes are frostbitten. I’m going home,’” said Thayer. “But that is not true. That’s a lie. In reality, if you’re standing out there, you’re blessing the women and men going in because they see you. You might save a life.”
She urged the attendees of the rally not to be discouraged by circumstances like a pro-abortion sitting president.
“We don’t need to look to the White House or the Supreme Court or Congress or our state. This is a grassroots thing,” she said. “The president doesn’t control what we say on the sidewalk to a woman going in (to an abortion clinic). That’s where hearts and minds are changed.”
For information about the Sheboygan 40 Days for Life vigil campaign, visit www.40daysforlife.com/sheboygan.