Women who worked in facilities were featured at Tennessee Right to Life annual banquet
By Bill Brewer
Guest speakers for the Tennessee Right to Life annual banquet gave rare glimpses into the inner workings of abortion facilities, describing what they said was their descent into the abortion industry and their faith-based deliverance from a business that has claimed more than 62 million infant lives since 1973, when the U.S. Supreme Court issued its controversial Roe v. Wade decision.
Annette Lancaster and Kelly Lester work with the nonprofit pro-life organization And Then There Were None, whose mission is to minister to abortion-facility employees and help them transition away from that work. The women testified before the Tennessee General Assembly last April in support of pro-life legislation that was being considered by state lawmakers. The Unborn Child Dignity Act and the Prenatal Life and Liberty Act were passed by the legislature and signed into law by Gov. Bill Lee earlier this year.
The Unborn Child Dignity Act requires the proper burial or cremation for a surgically aborted child. The new law grants the same protection, respect, and dignity to a surgically aborted child that existing law requires of any other deceased human.
The Prenatal Life and Liberty Act allows wrongful death claims to be litigated against someone who kills a mother and her unborn child regardless of gestational development. Tennessee law had only allowed for wrongful death claims for unborn children past the point of “viability.”
This new law also prohibits lawsuits against doctors who failed to discover or disclose a child’s medical condition prior to the child’s birth. Wrongful birth and wrongful life lawsuits have occurred when parents claim that abortion would have been preferable to birth and life and petition a court for civil monetary damages, claiming physician breach of duty and omission.
The speakers shared their experiences in working for Planned Parenthood and a small abortion clinic, experiences that prompted them to quit their jobs after only nine months and join pro-life efforts. The banquet was held Oct. 12 at the Bridgewater Place Event Center in Knoxville.
And Then There Were None was founded by former Planned Parent hood director Abby Johnson and provides financial, legal, spiritual, and emotional support to abortion workers who want to leave the abortion industry. Ms. Johnson is author of the book Unplanned, which was made into a feature film of the same name.
Stacy Dunn, president of Tennessee Right to Life who also leads the Knox County chapter of the organization, welcomed the 400 pro-life supporters attending the event with a summary of the current state of abortion in the United States as the Supreme Court prepares to hear arguments in December in a Mississippi case that could overturn the landmark Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion in every state.
“The light shines brightly in this room, but we all know that the world out there is a dark place and seems to be getting darker every day. With the current administration in the White House, we are experiencing unprecedented attacks on life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” Mrs. Dunn said. “The Biden administration has made it clear that it wants nothing less but abortion on demand with no limits and with the taxpayers, you and me, paying for it. They even want to make sure that no doctor or pharmacist can object to or opt out of taking the lives of children. The attacks are endless.”
“Then you have Nancy Pelosi pushing through the Women’s Health Protection Act, which would undo every state life-saving regulation like our own 48-hour waiting period and informed consent law plus others. Every state protection would be struck down. It is her attempt to codify Roe v. Wade in our federal law. Pelosi and her abortion-loving friends are making all these desperate attempts because of one word: Texas,” Mrs. Dunn added.
The Texas legislature recently banned abortion in the state after a heartbeat is detected. The law is unique in that it does not depend on the state to enforce it. Instead, it says if anyone performs or assists with aborting a baby after a heartbeat has been detected, any citizen can bring a civil lawsuit against that individual. If successful, the defendant in such a lawsuit can be fined no less than $10,000 for breaking the law. The U.S. Supreme Court has allowed the law to go into effect, although the high court could review the Texas law this month.
On Dec. 1, the Supreme Court will hear the case of Mississippi’s ban on abortions once a baby reaches week 16 of development.
“The court will hear the case of Mississippi’s 16-week ban, and the justices have indicated that with this case they will be considering all pre-viability bans, heartbeat, 12 weeks, etc. What you need to understand is that we are living under Roe v. Wade. In Roe, the court decided that no state law could ban abortion before viability, which currently is considered around 20 weeks. So, if the court is willing to look at a 16-week ban, they will have to be willing to take another look at Roe, Mrs. Dunn said.
“Here’s the great news: they cannot visit a 16-week ban without visiting Roe. And if they overturn Roe in whole or in part, the next state you will hear about is Tennessee. It will trigger the Tennessee law that we passed in 2019 that says Tennessee will return to the pre-Roe laws that are still on our books, and abortion will be banned except for the life of the mother,” she added. “So, while Texas and Mississippi strike fear in the hearts of the abortion industry and its friends in government, those two words offer us great hope that the end of Roe v. Wade is near. It is way past time.”
Mrs. Dunn pointed out that at a time when abortion is under the microscope across the United States and in the Supreme Court, Planned Parenthood is nearly doubling the size of its facility in East Knoxville, possibly ramping up abortion procedures there.
In her remarks to the state General Assembly, Ms. Lester described how she was raped as a pre-teen and then became pregnant as a young teen, deciding to abort her child, and how her life continued to spiral downward.
“I walked in alone for my first abortion. There was no parental consent given, there was no discussion about options, and there was no explanation of potential risks or side effects. There was also no discussion about what was going to happen to my baby after being torn from my young body. And this was in a state that required all of these things as a standard of care for abortion. This date changed my life,” she said.
“Before this day, I had received early acceptance to college. I was a nationally ranked athlete and a regular church-attender. After this date, I barely passed my senior year of high school. I quit playing sports, stopped going to church, and I eventually began using drugs. I began running drugs up and down the east coast. I developed an eating disorder. And I was in countless abusive relationships,” Ms. Lester told Tennessee lawmakers.
“Interesting enough, I later worked at the very clinic where I had my first abortion. I hoped to escape the chaos of my life and do something to help women. My job as receptionist was to fill the appointment book, prepare the reception room, and oversee the recovery room. Part of this was editing magazines to make sure that nothing would change these women’s minds from why they had come to us: abortion. We often bypassed laws. We shortcutted regulations to prevent shaming the women we served. The reality is that where there were not strict requirements of reporting, we blurred lines and we cut corners.
“This fetal remains bill is another step in guaranteeing there is proper accountability for these women. Where are the 10,800 babies reportedly aborted last year in Tennessee? There are many victims in the violence of abortion. While this bill does not lessen the number of casualties, it may potentially bring closure and healing to not only the mother, but the father, grandparents, and possible siblings of the child. Abortion is an ugly reality for many, myself included. But it is your job to protect the dignity and humanity of those you serve. Thank you,” she concluded.
Ms. Lester, who told the banquet audience that the time she spent testifying before the Tennessee General Assembly were some of the most important moments of her life, explained how she was hired as a Virginia abortion clinic receptionist and was paid $18 an hour two decades ago when the minimum wage was $5.15 an hour, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. She and Ms. Lancaster were interviewed on stage by Tennessee Right to Life’s Angel Brewer.
And in her remarks to the state General Assembly, Ms. Lancaster described how she was a highly educated nursing administrator who witnessed the horrors of abortion firsthand and was required to perform tasks only a registered nurse should perform even though she had no clinical education or training.
“I was never raised talking about abortions. I was neither pro-life or pro-choice. It was just a topic that was never brought up in my house. It never affected me, or any of my friends, or my family members. I found myself unemployed at one time, but I had just recently completed my master’s degree in health-care administration, and Planned Parenthood sought me out. I worked at the largest Planned Parenthood in North Carolina. And like Kelly said, they were paying really good money. So, I found myself working there for about nine months. Our stories are so parallel. In that nine months, it literally almost ruined my life. It tore me apart. It really affected my mind. And I just thank God that I no longer am in the industry,” Mrs. Lancaster told the audience in the sold-out venue.
“It took me a while to get out. I wish I could say there was one pivotal moment for me, but God knows each and every one of us. He knows the number of hairs on our head, and He knew that I needed several instances to get out of the industry. I’ve been out since 2015, and I’m happy to be out,” she added.
Among her regrets about working for Planned Parenthood is being misled about her job responsibilities.
“I was absolutely deceived. I went in to working at Planned Parenthood under the auspices that this was going to be an administrative position. I have an MHA, a master’s in health-care administration. I do not have any clinical experience. I do not have any clinical background. I don’t even know how to take my own blood pressure, and I’m on blood-pressure pills. But going into Planned Parenthood, I was under the assumption that, as the health center director, I would be in the office. After being there not even two to three weeks, I found myself not only in the back of a procedure room, but actually assisting the abortionist and also holding the ultrasound machine for procedures with no clinical training. And they told me, ‘You’re doing a great job,’” she recalled.
Ms. Lester then said, “That is one of the things with And Then There Were None that we are finding. It’s not an isolated thing, which is so interesting. She (Ms. Lancaster) was with one of the largest Planned Parenthoods in the nation, and I was at a small, private clinic. But what is systemic in the abortion industry, whether it is a big clinic or a small clinic, is that the abortion industry hires underqualified people, they overcompensate them so they can train them in their way. So, then their way is not legal, quite honestly. For myself, same thing. I was hired as a receptionist with no medical training. But one of my jobs was the recovery room. So, with these women who have been under heavy anesthesia, it was my job to go in, supposedly to take their blood pressure, which we didn’t do, and say whether or not they were fit to be released from the clinic. The number of women who were hemorrhaging and other things is what finally drove me to leave the clinic.
“But I had no medical background at all. I was also the one who handed them their first medication when they came in. The first thing we did was hand them Valium. I’m not able to do that, but I was the one who handed them the Valium. I also, during chemical abortions, was handing them the bag of pills for them to go home and do this procedure. Remember, I was the receptionist. I cannot tell you a single person who was hired to do a job and that is the job they ended up doing. Everybody is moved to do more and further and deeper (abortion-related jobs) because that way Planned Parenthood and the abortion industry can control the narrative. If you do not know about the chemical procedure, you need to find out about it. It is where the abortion industry is going, and it is terrifying what they are doing,” Ms. Lester continued.
Ms. Lancaster further clarified that, “when you work in the health-care industry, when it’s true health care, in any recovery room you are required to be a registered nurse, not a receptionist. You cannot even give medication as an LPN. You have to be an RN. But in the abortion industry, although they say they’re providing health care, you have receptionists and office managers doing RN roles.”
The speakers were asked about the inner workings of the abortion industry based on their experiences.
Ms. Lester said her job responsibilities included overseeing the recovery room of the clinic where she worked in addition to the reception area.
“We would edit magazines. I would look through a magazine, and anything in that magazine that might trigger a woman to keep this baby we would remove it from the magazine. And remember this was 20 years ago, so we had a VCR tape that we would put what looked like live TV up on the screens of the TVs in the waiting room. But it was actually edited because we didn’t want a Pampers commercial or something like that to come on that might trigger her,” Ms. Lester said.
“Now this was in the state of Virginia, so there was a 24-hour waiting period. When the women would come for their first appointment, they typically would come with their boyfriend or husband. We would turn the heat on super, super hot, or the air conditioning on super, super cold so that he would get up and leave the waiting room. Because when she came out from her consultation, we did not want him there waiting for her because we did not want her to feel supported,” she continued.
Ms. Lester has been asked why she would take part in that. “Remember, I had chosen abortion. And it was phrased to me as, ‘You know how hard this decision is. We want to make it easier for her.’ And I was like, ‘Yes, it is hard. We do want to make it easier for her.’ But then I quickly realized that was not what we were trying to do. We were trying to manipulate her.’”
Ms. Lancaster added, “It is definitely what I call emotional manipulation. We did very similar things. I was in the industry more recently, so we didn’t have VCRs, but we did very similar things. We would play radio stations that had R&B or love-making music. We didn’t play elevator music. We did edit our magazines still. It was just total emotional manipulation.”
Ms. Lancaster said she saw no compassion toward women while she was working at Planned Parenthood.
“We were taught. We were given cards, and we were told what to say to patients. I found myself being really cold and treating these women like herds of cattle. I never treated anyone like a patient. It was always ‘hurry up and sign this paperwork.” “You came here, you already signed up to do this, you already signed half the consent forms. Just finish signing the paperwork and go ahead and have your procedure,” she said.
“When we did what was called consent, or counseling, there really was no counseling. I used to ask, ‘Where’s the counseling portion of this?’ And they said, ‘That’s just the part where you talk to the women and have them sign the paperwork.’ So, I asked again, ‘When are they getting counseling and when are we giving them their options?’ We didn’t go over any options. We didn’t discuss anything other than abortion. It was just ‘check this off, here, here, and here, so that we told you about it. So, you now know your options even though we didn’t go into any detail about it. You’ve signed everything, so go ahead and get your procedure. There was absolutely no compassion,” she continued.
And this was in a state that has an informed consent law, according to Ms. Lancaster.
“North Carolina has an informed consent law, but as long as they sign it and it’s checked off in a box, they’ve received informed consent. In the facility where I worked, we also checked off where we had done so many referrals for adoption. We did not. … Check it off and sign it, and go ahead and have your procedure. These women are really being pushed through to make a decision without even being given the proper amount of time to think about,” she said.
“You’re also told there’s no quota. I asked three times specifically. Because toward the end of my tenure there I was being reprimanded and written up for my numbers not being as high as they were previously. So, I asked is there a quota? ‘No, Annette, there’s no quota.’ So, I’m being written up for my numbers dropping, but there’s no quota. ‘No, there’s no quota. But you didn’t meet your numbers.’ That’s the emotional manipulation, and just the manipulation in general, that you learn at Planned Parenthood,” she added.
Ms. Lancaster said there is a high turnover rate among employees at abortion facilities. However, for people who work in the industry for many years, “I really think they are what the Bible talks about as ‘reprobates,’ and that’s how they can stay in it that long.”
“I remember having a one-on-one conversation with the head abortionist at a Chapel Hill, N.C., facility. And he was also the medical director. And I asked him one day how can you do this day in and day out? How is this easy for you? And he said, ‘Oh, it’s not easy. It gives me nightmares.’ I thought why would you want to continue doing a job that gives you nightmares? But when you’re making $200,000 a year working only four hours a day, three days a week…when you’re making $18 an hour 20 years ago…,’” she said.
Ms. Lancaster said she had several ‘aha’ moments that led her to leave the industry.
“The one that haunts me to this day is I had a patient. And while she was in the procedure room on the table, I was holding the ultrasound on her for the procedure. She grabbed my hand, looked me in my eyes and asked me, ‘do you think God is going to forgive me for what I’m about to do?’ I knew what I wanted to say. I knew what Annette wanted to say. I also was born and raised in a church, AME Apostolic Pentecostal, so I knew what I wanted to say. I used the Planned Parenthood mantra that I was taught. I looked at her and said, ‘Well, do you believe in a forgiving God?’ She said, ‘Well, yeah.’ And I said, ‘Well, there you go. Go ahead and have the procedure. He’ll forgive you. Go ahead and graduate. You can have a baby later on.’ It haunts me to this day. Because even though she believed in a forgiving God, that’s not the answer she was looking for. And I knew that,” Ms. Lancaster recalled.
Ms. Lester said she did not have a specific ‘aha’ moment but a series of ‘aha’ moments that prompted her to quit the abortion industry.
“The manipulation in the front (reception area of the facility) I could kind of get past that. But seeing the women in the recovery room who were hemorrhaging and knowing we were ‘fixing them up’ and sending them on their way without ever telling them what had happened; we never told them that their uterus had been perforated or whatever else may have happened, that started to wear on me. And I thought I came here to help women. This isn’t helping women. And then the conversations that were happening in the back rooms, the way the workers talked about these women. Remember, I had been a patient at this clinic, so my thoughts were did they talk about me like that? Did they say those things about me? I actually went and got my file after seeing what was happening to these other women. I wondered did that happen to me. Those kinds of things started to make me think this isn’t actually helping women.
“I was pro-choice at that point, but I still wouldn’t tell anybody that I worked in an abortion clinic. I told them I worked in a women’s clinic, because I knew that even though I was pro-choice, even though I had had abortions, I knew it wasn’t something to be proud of, so I kept it a secret.”
During her testimony before the Tennessee General Assembly in support of requiring proper burials or cremations for aborted children, Ms. Lancaster explained that it was her job “15 to 20 times a day” to find the arms, legs, torsos, and heads after each surgical abortion. What she did, “and what is still being done today” is discard the tiny humans in the trash can “as if they were garbage.” She said she still is haunted by performing that heartbreaking task and knows how dehumanizing abortions are.
She also described how words used in the abortion industry are purposely chosen to dehumanize children who are killed in the womb. “Patient” is used instead of woman or mother; POC, or product of conception, is used instead of fetus; “remains” is used instead of baby.
She said nights spent in prayer, asking for God to reach out to her, led her to reject the practice of abortion and the abortion industry. She described how she began drinking with her Planned Parenthood co-workers after work and during “staff meetings” in bars to numb the pain of abortion.
“For me, the re-humanization of these babies came from God. I was on such a downward spiral that I really couldn’t think, and I couldn’t see what I was doing,” she said.
Now, Ms. Lancaster and Ms. Lester are working to extricate other abortion-industry workers from the grim profession through the And Then There Were None organization and its websites, abortionworker.com and prolove.com, and they are having success.
They emphasized that there are no magic words used to persuade a woman against having an abortion or convince an abortion-industry worker to leave the business.
“It’s really all about love,” Ms. Lancaster said. “I am loving people out of the industry.”
And Ms. Lester added, “What there is is we have a big God who does amazing things. If He can pull me out, if He can pull Annette out, if he can pull the other 600-plus workers out, He can pull others out. But you have to be faithful in prayer, you have to be led by the Holy Spirit.”
They both advised pro-life supporters who stand in prayerful vigil outside abortion facilities, such as with the 40 Days for Life ministry that the Diocese of Knoxville participates in, to be prayerful with love, not anger, because the very women and men they are praying for will know if they are doing so in anger and it will turn them off.
“If you are angry, stay home and pray. Because those women and those men are going to feel your anger. … When you’re on that sidewalk, you should feel compassion and love. If you don’t the women and the men going into that clinic are going to feel it,” Ms. Lester said. “You may not see change, but it is happening, it is affecting what goes on in the clinic. I can promise you it makes a difference.”
Their testimony to the General Assembly received support from lawmakers.
Rep. Paul Sherrell, R-Sparta, said, “I appreciate you all having the courage and the guts to come and tell us this. I wish America could hear what you ladies have to say, what we’re doing to our people in this world, our babies. It just touches my heart. I appreciate you all very much.”
And Rep. Robin Smith, R-Hixson, added, “Thank you, ladies, for being courageous and for being strong. Thank you for sharing your firsthand testimony. I would just simply say be very truthful. We’re living in a culture where life is being redefined to be cells and to be less than human. Consider me as someone who is signing on to this bill as a sponsor. Also, do not soften your voice. Do not allow our culture to cancel what you’re doing because that which our culture celebrates is that which it is known for. We will all have to stand before a judge that is much greater than this life. Thank you and God bless you for what you’re doing.”