Planned Parenthood defector Susan Thayer testifies before Congress.

Who Is the Planned Parenthood Defector Who Testified Before Congress?

Who Is the Planned Parenthood Defector Who Testified Before Congress?

What women really think.
Oct. 8 2015 8:56 PM

Who Is the Planned Parenthood Defector Who Testified Before Congress?

She’s become a born-again anti-abortion activist, but her story is dodgy.

Sue Thayer, former Planned Parenthood employee.
Former Planned Parenthood employee Susan Thayer.

Screenshot courtesy Christian Broadcasting Network

In 2002, a dead newborn baby boy was discovered at a recycling plant in Storm Lake, Iowa. Police could neither identify him nor determine the cause of death, so they turned to local doctors and nurses to try to find his mother. When they subpoenaed the records of women who’d had pregnancy tests at the local Planned Parenthood, however, the clinic fought the order to the Iowa Supreme Court, which ultimately stayed it. “For many women, it’s the most personal test they’ve ever had done,” then–clinic manager Susan Thayer was quoted saying in USA Today. “They come in expecting the information will stay here.”

Michelle Goldberg Michelle Goldberg

Michelle Goldberg is a columnist for Slate and the author, most recently, of The Goddess Pose.

Storm Lake was the kind of place where everyone knew everyone else. Thayer’s own brother-in-law had been the one to find the boy. In such a place, Thayer said, law enforcement officials might easily recognize the names of women they knew on the list. Already, fewer women were coming in for pregnancy tests. The town was bitterly divided over the case, and Thayer described receiving threats and “sidelong glances.” “She said [she] prays the town understands her position,” USA Today wrote, quoting Thayer saying, “It would be devastating for the clinic to have to turn these records over.”

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Since then, Thayer has had a change of heart. In 2008, Planned Parenthood fired her. She said it was because she opposed the advent of telemedicine abortion, in which a doctor prescribes the abortion pill to women in remote clinics via video conference. Mike Falkstrom, a lawyer for Planned Parenthood of the Heartland, denies this categorically, though he declines to offer specifics, saying only, “At the time there were a number of reductions in force.” Regardless, Thayer soon morphed into an anti-abortion activist.

Working with the Alliance Defending Freedom, a Christian-right legal group, she filed a False Claims Act complaint against her former employer, accusing it of Medicaid fraud and other misdeeds. Today, she was a star witness at “Planned Parenthood Exposed,” the latest Judiciary Committee hearing on the reproductive health care giant.

Every ideologue loves a defector from the other side, and the right has been hugely excited for Congress to hear from Thayer. “Read the Testimony That Could Put Planned Parenthood on Its Heels,” a Daily Caller headline beckoned. LifeNews.com described Thayer’s “amazing conversion story,” writing, “[S]he will share her story with Congress and expose the abuses at Planned Parenthood abortion clinics at a time when the abortion company is facing national questions over it selling aborted babies and their body parts.” In fact, Thayer’s story has nothing to do with fetal body parts—she was never involved in late-term abortion or fetal tissue donation. But Planned Parenthood’s opponents clearly hope she can embarrass the organization she once worked for. 

Maybe she can, but her story is dodgy. As Thayer describes it now, her doubts about Planned Parenthood began back in 2002. She portrays herself as being shocked by the group’s refusal to turn patient records over to the police. “I assumed that Planned Parenthood would want to cooperate with this criminal investigation,” she said. “Instead, Planned Parenthood turned the murder into a fundraising opportunity and falsely claimed that all women’s health records would be compromised” if they were turned over to the police. If this were a false claim, Thayer was one of the people who made it, though no one listening to her testimony would know that.

Once she lost her job, Thayer said in her congressional testimony, she discovered that Planned Parenthood was acting fraudulently, though how she discovered fraud at a place she no longer worked is unclear. Last year, the conservative 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that her complaint “does not include any representative examples of the false claims that Thayer alleges that Planned Parenthood submitted for reimbursement,” although rather than dismissing the case, it returned it to federal district court, where it is today.

Under the False Claims Act, whistleblowers receive a portion of recovered damages. Given that Thayer is claiming Planned Parenthood defrauded the government of $28 million, maybe she thinks she’s going to make money off all this. Or perhaps she really has had a religious awakening; a piece in Catholic World Report says, “Thayer is a self-described ‘born-again Christian’ who believes God wants her to share the message of the evil of webcam abortions.” Either way, her testimony didn’t so much expose Planned Parenthood as it revealed the very low evidentiary standards of those who seek to destroy it.