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Wednesday, Nov. 25, 2015

Marching for Life

Friday, February 1, 2013

Three of Sue Thayer's daughters, Zoe, Desi and Kim, amid 500,000 March of Life participants.
A crusade that started on the front stoop of the former Planned Parenthood office in Storm Lake has taken Sue Thayer to the streets of Washington, D.C. as part of the March for Life this month.

Thayer, a quiet-by-nature former employee of Planned Parenthood who has since become a nationally-known speaker against the kind of abortions that her former employer once offered in Storm Lake, never planned to become an activist.

"I tried not to do this," she says. "I tried for two years."

Her convictions, and continued requests for her to speak out, gradually wore down her resistance, and she led a "40 Days" demonstration in front of the Planned Parenthood Storm Lake office, shortly before the organization closed the location. Since then, she has been called to several states to speak, and next month is scheduled to address the Missouri State Legislature, where a bill is under consideration to ban "webcam" abortion.

But first, Thayer packed up five children - ranging from her grad-school-age eldest daughter to her adopted 2-year-old, and drove cross-country to be part of the March for Life.

On the way they stopped in Des Moines and joined the Iowa March for Life at the state capitol, Sue spoke at a church in Virginia, and addressed the national Students for Life gathering in Maryland.

Never far from her mind was the youngest on her trip, Zoe, who had nearly become a part of the statistic - nearly 56 million deaths due to abortion since the Roe v. Wade decision 40 years ago. "Her birth mother had an appointment for an abortion, but her ride didn't show up," Sue explained.

Though she was reluctant to do so for a long time, Sue says she has come to understand that it is important for a person to speak out on what they believe.

"The children who are at risk of being aborted don't have a chance to speak for themselves. Nobody wants to talk about abortion - we are in the position we are as a society because people didn't speak up and say they believe this is wrong," she said. "Nothing can change unless somebody is willing to stand up."

Thayer is often called upon to speak about webcam abortion - the process that Planned Parenthood has used in rural offices in which a consultation is done by video, a pill is given out from an automatic drawer, and the patient completes an abortion on their own.

Thayer said she was proud of her job directing the local Planned Parenthood office, and felt she was helping women to affordably attain important health services. The webcam system, she said, was the tipping point for her.

"Even people who tend to be pro-abortion, once they hear hear about women and girls aborting babies at home, alone, with no supervision being given by a doctor or nurse, start to question this practice," she said. "For me, personally, that was when I started to question everything about Planned Parenthood."

She said that although the local clinic received payments through Medicaid for many of its patients, they were directed to also ask the patient to pay a "suggested donation" of partial cost of services or medication - in effect, being paid twice over. "I have children, I know that when you go to a doctor or dentist with Medicare, they don't ask you to pay them a donation too."

After she started to ask questions, she says, she was relieved of her duties.

She is clearly not alone in her convictions. A large crowd showed up for the March in Des Moines, including Governor Branstad, who addressed a large gathering on the issue later in the day, and Lt. Gov. Reynolds.

But what she found at the Washington March for Life was a revelation.

"The estimates said there were about a half a million people. It was amazing," she said. And also, a little intimidating.

"With a stroller, it was a little bit overpowering, trying to move, trying not to hit anyone with all those people packed in there so tightly. We got separated in the crowd... thank goodness for cell phones."

Thayer and her children found themselves placed at the front of the action, with the group Alliance Defending Freedom, and 615 college student participants from Notre Dame University.

She was enthused to find, in fact, that most of the marchers were young people.

The Thayers got to meet several of the county's leading pro-life activists, speakers and writers. "It was a blessing, especially for my kids to meet these people who have led this movement for so many years," Sue said.

"It was such an impressive, inspiring sight... balloons, thousands of signs, al those people who had cared so much to come so far. It was cold, and then this heavy snow began to fall and people just turned white as they continued to march - it was kind of a vision of purity and very striking," she said.

Many of the marchers had come from places like southern California and Texas, and suffered in the weather. "They asked us, 'Aren't you cold?' and we just said, 'Nah, we're from Iowa.'"

Thayer grumbles that the 500,000 marchers barely warranted a mention in the Washington news, while a few days later, a rally on gun rights with a fraction of the people was splashed on TV and in the headlines.

She found many of the hand-lettered signs thought-provoking. One large banner, attached to a building, especially struck Thayer, reading. "We may not always agree with our government, be we are called to pray for them."

While one might think of a rally as militant and angry, this experience was anything but that. "Everyone was friendly and very courteous, even with the extremely crowded conditions. People were cheerful to be there, and yet underlying it, somber about the reason we still need to be there," Thayer said.

Later, 2,000 college students from around the country attended the conference where she spoke, put on by Students For Life.

It was, she thinks, a sign of momentum. "The 40 years (under Roe v. Wade) was significant. It is a number of importance in the Bible... the people wandering in the desert for 40 years... as I travel, there is a feeling all over the country that we're reaching a turning point, that things will be changing."

And yet, she admits, Planned Parenthood's newly-released annual report claimed a record number of abortions performed, and a record income that included, she says, $542 million in federal taxpayer dollars from the government.

"I don't think a lot of people realize that we as a nation are subsidizing this. Planned Parenthood is careful not to speak or answer and questions about webcam abortion - if they were proud of the service they offered to women, why wouldn't they be talking about it?" Thayer asks.

"During the 40 Days of Life" demonstrations, as patients would be coming past us going into the Planned Parenthood building, they would see me and say "What are you doing?" Many of them weren't even aware that the organization does abortions."

Thayer says her children have learned a lot about their country from traveling with her to pro-life and political events where she has been called to speak, though her 10-year-old complains, "Oh Mom, I've heard you talk a million times."

The cross country drive in a van full of kids of various ages is fun, but Thayer is quick to add that her next trip will be a quiet one - alone.

"There was never a dull moment. My littlest one came down with the flu halfway into the trip and we ended up parked at an emergency room. We ended up having to stay an extra night in Illinois due to the weather After 10 days, it was good to see Lakeside coming up in the windshield again."

Back home, she will continue to campaign for an abortion waiting period in Iowa, similar to what many other states do. "If a woman comes in for a pregnancy test at Planned Parenthood, we are instructed to tell them - '45 minutes in and out and we can take care of that problem,'" she claimed. "Women do it impetuously, because it is offered to them and it sounds like an easy fix. I know that Planned Parenthood will argue that a waiting period amounts to denying women access to a health service, but it seems to me that one of the things the state could do is just give the person a chance to go home and think about what they want to do."

Given that, there might be more Zoes.

Now that she has become the most unexpected of national-figure activists, she has no plans to go back to keeping quiet, Thayer says.

"People call and want me to come, so I go. I'm fortunate to have lots of help with the kids and help from my church. So far, God has provided. As long as people want to hear what I have to say and I can keep doing it, I will."

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