In her nearly four decades as an abortion provider, Suzanne Thorp has endured threats, harassment, and attacks on her clinic from anti-choice activists.
“I’ve spent the last 37 years of my life engaged in abortion activism and services,” Thorp told Rewire.News. “I’ve had my private practice attacked with butyric acid, and I’ve seen physician friends of mine attacked and even murdered. In each of these instances my mother called me and begged me to stop. And I thought about it, but ultimately, as horrible as it all was, it was unsurprising because I’m familiar with the twisted thinking of anti-choice radicals and activists.”
When Thorp took a position with Planned Parenthood Rocky Mountains (PPRM) in 2013, she expected to encounter more of the same violent opposition from those who oppose abortion rights. What she didn’t expect to encounter: intimidation and pushback from management when she vocalized her concerns over pay and work conditions, and began advocating for a union.
Thorp is a leader in the unionization efforts as a member of the PPRM bargaining team. After organizing with other staff members to successfully win their election for a union, only to have management appeal the vote with President Trump’s National Labor Relations Board, Thorp says tensions are high between PPRM staff and management. This came to a head for her when she attempted to attend a fundraising event for Planned Parenthood Colorado Votes (PPCV)—the organization’s advocacy and political arm—on June 13 to talk to donors and urge them to ensure their donations do not go to anti-union activities.
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“What happened at the fundraiser triggered post traumatic stress disorder symptoms (PTSD) because the perpetrators were people on my side who I am not supposed to be fighting,” Thorp said.
Thorp purchased tickets, but when she arrived she learned the event was sold out and her money had been refunded. The event was held at a public venue with certain areas reserved exclusively for ticketed attendees, so Thorp attempted to scope out the venue to determine if there might be a public space outside the event where she could speak to donors as they entered. She soon discovered there was no such space and decided to leave.
As she exited, she noticed uniformed Aurora police officers approaching her, so to avoid a confrontation she walked away from them. Thorp says she felt as though she was followed and watched all the way to her car, and even as she left the parking lot she worried she might get pulled over.
“They were there to scare and intimidate me, and it worked,” Thorp said in a Facebook post on the PPRM Bargaining Team’s page. “This triggered a whole host of post-traumatic anxiety related to violent and aggressive anti-abortion activities I have survived in my past.”
Security is standard at Planned Parenthood events, Whitney Phillips, spokesperson for Planned Parenthood Rocky Mountains, told Rewire.News, noting that protests are common at Planned Parenthood events and local police departments are usually notified to prevent disturbances and keep attendees safe.
“On June 13th, Planned Parenthood Votes Colorado hosted a sold-out fundraiser for our advocacy work. There were no disturbances at the event, at no point was anyone threatened with arrest, and no one was followed by the police at the request of [Planned Parenthood],” Phillips said in a statement. “We had numerous staff and community members present and they all have confirmed that nothing like this occurred. We’ve additionally confirmed with our security team that the police officers who were on duty and present at the Stanley Marketplace throughout our event did nothing more than assure that guests were able to access the third-floor space via the elevators and staircase.”
“We sadly turned away many people in the days before the event, as well as at the door, due to being over capacity for the venue,” Phillips said.
Thorp said she did not intend to protest and left voluntary before an altercation could occur. She did not come into contact with the officers nor was she threatened with arrest. But the events of the evening caused her great anxiety, she said, because it represented a culmination of years of pushback from the very people she thought would stand by her.
“For years, we have asked for a seat at the table and a meaningful role in how medical services are delivered in the centers,” Thorp said. “In response, we have been ignored, ridiculed, humiliated, and in some cases, fired. It is time to demand meaningful participation in the decision-making processes surrounding how medical care is delivered at PPRM.”
Thorp spent most of her career in a private practice she owned with her husband, Mayfair Women’s Center in Aurora, Colorado. With her husband on the cusp of retirement in 2013, Thorp wasn’t ready to end her career in women’s health, so she took a traveling nurse practitioner position with PPRM, covering New Mexico, Colorado and Wyoming. While she was excited about the opportunity, she was shocked at the low pay—$32 an hour, less than what she made in the early 1990s.
Thorp said she focused on doing her job well the first year and planned to negotiate a higher wage at her annual review, but when the time came, management was not receptive.
“That was when I started to become upset,” Thorp said. “I started talking to colleagues and realized the HCAs (Health Center Assistants) were being started at $12.50 an hour, which was less than you could make at a hamburger joint in Denver.”
Low pay, high turnover, and a lack of transparency are some of Thorp and her colleagues’ biggest reasons for organizing, she said.
PPRM workers are urging leadership to drop its NLRB appeal and allow the formation of a union at 14 of its 18 health centers in Colorado.
“Clinical staff at PPRM have been desperately fighting for collective bargaining, in order to counteract the administration’s aggressively top-down management style, which infantilizes us, stifles our creativity, and ultimately prevents us from providing to our patients the high quality care we are capable of,” Thorp said. “We need collective bargaining and the protections and rights that only belonging to a union can provide.”