Former Clinic Worker: Kelly Lester

In a March 25, 2021 webcast by And Then There Were None, former abortion worker Kelly Lester was interviewed by Brandy Meeks. Here is her testimony:

Lester: I worked for a clinic here in Richmond, Virginia. I live now in Richmond, Virginia. And it was the clinic that I actually had my first abortion at when I was 15. Years later, I was working as a waitress and a bartender and was just looking for a different kind of job and saw that they were hiring. And knew them, because I had gone there.

And so I went and applied, and got hired, and worked as a receptionist and was there…for about nine months. And then left. That was about 20 years ago that that happened, that I left there. And continued in my crazy life…

Eventually [I] met my husband and I am now married and have six children…

I was very shy and insecure in school and got made fun of, bullied pretty intensely to the point where I wouldn’t wear the same outfit twice because the kids picked on me so badly. I knew what they were going to say. And so that caused me to develop into a really insecure teenager.

At 12, I snuck out of my parents’ house with some friends, went to a party, and was raped. It was by one of the boys in school. And I went and told my friends about it and they said, “Oh, that didn’t happen to you, why would he do that to you?”…

And I told my youth pastor and she said, “If you’d never gone to that party it would’ve never happened.” And so because of that, I felt like I had already sinned in a way that was unforgivable.

Now, I grew up in church. I was in the church every time the doors opened. Wednesday night, Sunday night, Sunday morning. We had small group at my parents’ house, so I knew a lot about God, but I didn’t really know God…

I felt shame, and I felt guilt. So I began to be promiscuous and was looking for love and looking for attention, and at 15 was pregnant. And that is when I went to that clinic for the first time. By myself. My boyfriend’s mom drove me there and dropped me off. And I had my first abortion.

There was definitely a progression where I wasn’t feeling good about myself even more so… After that, I just didn’t care about life anymore. I was playing tennis, was ranked in the region, was supposed to go to college and all of these things that I had planned on doing. After that, after walking out of the clinic, I just didn’t care about any of them anymore.

And so I numbed the pain any way and every way I could. Drugs, and alcohol, and men and live life like out of a movie – a bad movie… just really a wild, wild time that I’m lucky to have survived.… Just trying to numb the pain from that experience, which then led into more shame and led into more guilt and led into more condemnation, just trying to feel better – feel better about what I had done, and who I was.

Because I’d always wanted to be a mom. Growing up, I always thought I’d be a mom. I knew that what I had done was wrong, but I didn’t feel like at 15 I had any choice, and I felt like having a child was going to ruin my life. You know, was going to ruin my plans to go to college, was going to ruin all these things I was going to do. When in reality, the abortion is what ruined my life… It didn’t ruin my life, but it ruined the plans I had for my life at the time. It changed me. It changed who I was. It changed how I felt about myself. It changed how I thought other people saw me, even though people didn’t necessarily know about it.

I became hard and didn’t care about my life or anybody else’s life, really, for that matter. And that continued on for about 15 years. And finally culminated in New Orleans.

I was there with a boyfriend. It was a very abusive relationship and we decided that I was going to come back home, and we went out to party one last night. And as we were out, we were drinking and got into a fight, which was pretty typical. He came home. I found my way home later than he did, and when I got home, the fight really intensified.… We had broken the door off the hinges of the door frame, and he was sitting on top of me with a 2 x 4, and was about to hit me over the head with the board. And as he’s about to hit me, he drops the board, he punches me in the face, you know, my eyes bust open, my nose busts open – and he looks, and he’s like, oh gosh, I really hurt her – because there was blood everywhere. And the fight stops.

The next day, I had all these text messages from my father. I didn’t call him, because I didn’t feel very good after the evening and after the fight but came back to Virginia and he met me, and when he saw me, he just was crying. And I said, oh dad, it was fine, I was in a car accident.

Lester found out that her father (who is a pastor) was praying for her the night she had the terrible fight with her boyfriend. Her father told her he had a sudden, strong premonition, out of the blue, that she was about to be killed. This convinced him to pray for her. Lester believes his prayer was the reason her boyfriend didn’t kill her. Believing this was an act of God, she dedicated her life to Christianity. 

Meeks asked Lester if there was a moment when she realized working at the abortion clinic was wrong, an “a-ha moment” similar to the ones some other workers have experienced. 

I didn’t actually have an “aha moment.” For me, it was more of a gradual and cumulative kind of thing. During that 15 years of craziness, like I said earlier, you know, I was waitressing, I was bartending, living a party life. I was really looking for something with some meaning. Looking for a job that had some meaning, a job where I could help people. Because in that time period, I was kind of a mama, I took care of everybody. So I did want to take care of people, but I just didn’t know how. And when I got hired there, I began to see things – I call it behind the glass – that I didn’t see when I was on the other side of the glass.

I saw the way the workers spoke to the women that were there. I saw the manipulation that we did to the women that were there. The manipulation that we did to the men. And I thought, “Oh my gosh, did they do this to me?”…

Knowing that I had been where these women were, and hearing how they talked to them, I thought, oh my gosh, this is bad. And it got worse, and worse, and worse, and I also dealt with the women in the recovery room.

And we saw lots of crazy stuff. Lots of women that were injured in the procedure and women that had issues. And so, I was like, something about this isn’t right. I knew that something about it wasn’t right. And finally, I just – it wasn’t what I thought it was going to be. It wasn’t helping people, and so I left the clinic.…

I definitely was pro-choice, because I had another abortion after that. So, even though I had left the clinic, it still was an option I went to when I felt like I didn’t have one.

And then, once I got “saved”, those things, that I knew were not necessarily good, started coming back around, and I was like, okay, I need to deal with this. I need to think about this. But it honestly didn’t change for me, Brandy, until I began to accept God’s love for me.

She said that due to her religion, she came to see unborn babies and women the way she believes God sees them, and to see herself the way she believes God sees her. This was part of what led to her becoming pro-life.

And then, I got married, and got pregnant. And that was the end of it for me. Once I felt the baby – because you can have blinders on your eyes, which people in the abortion industry do – they’re like Paul. They’ve got scales on their eyes. Even the most hardened ones don’t really believe the reality of it, I think, because if you did, you couldn’t actually do it.

But for me, when I felt the baby move in my body, I was like, “Oh my goodness.” The reality of it all came to me – that it is actually a baby. And so there was no turning back for me at that point.

Meeks: I love something you said there, because I think it would help, especially if there – if a worker were to come across this video, were to come across this, or is hanging out with us tonight, that if you do not identify as being pro-life at point, it is still okay to leave the clinic for all of the other reasons, right?

Lester: Absolutely.

Meeks: That you can identify as being wrong… The manipulation, the sales tactics, the harm that you see done, all of these things, right, and we can be there for you. And Then There Were None can be there for someone who may not be in that boat of saying, hey I’m ready – we just need you to say, I’m ready to leave that life behind.…

Now you mentioned something earlier about some manipulation that was happening in the clinic… Can you tell us more about that, just some examples so that we can understand that a little more clearly.

Lester: Sure. So one of my jobs again, I was the receptionist, so I was in charge of all the phone calls that came into the office, making appointments, handing out the paperwork when the women came in the clinic – one of my main jobs with the actual reception area. And what I mean by that is, making sure that it was clean, making sure that it had magazines, making sure that the magazines that were in the area were edited. And what I mean by that is anything that’s in the magazine that might trigger a woman to want to continue with her pregnancy, we would remove. So that could be a diaper ad. It could be a happy couple, even, walking [or] sitting on a park bench, because those kinds of things could stir up in this woman that she wanted to be a mom, and so we didn’t want anything that would make her decide that.

The TV that we had in the waiting room was not just playing public TV. It TV with commercials that were tailored to not promote a woman to keep her child.

Meeks: How could they control something like that?

Lester: It was all prerecorded. It was like – it was a while ago, so these were all VCR tapes. We put VCR tapes in, it looked like a TV, like you were just watching TV – but it was actually VCR tapes with the recordings on it.

That – when I first heard about it, because now I think about it, and I’m like, oh my gosh, how did I even do that, you know? But when it was first presented, it was, look, these women are in crisis. And they’re struggling with this decision, for many different reasons… So we want to prevent them from feeling guilty for what they know they need to do. You know, it was always that phrase, “we’re helping them.… [We’re] protecting them, and helping them make the decision they really want to make.”

But I began to see what was happening in the back rooms and so I’m like, that’s not really – you’re saying that, but that’s not really what you’re showing me and how you’re acting.

I would also load the books. So, if it was a day when we didn’t have appointments, when women would call in – we had a phone script that we would use – it was before the day of caller ID. So we would say, “Could I get your name, you can just give me your first name, can I get your first name and your phone number, so in case we get disconnected, I can call you back?” Right? Sometimes they would give it, and sometimes they wouldn’t.

Well, if they gave it and didn’t make the appointment when we had available appointments, we would call them. And say, “Hey, just wanted to check on you, let you know, we have tomorrow open if you want to come in.” So we would actually recruit, almost, to try to fill the appointments, because if there were no appointments, there was no money.

The clinic where I worked at was a private clinic, and they did nothing but abortions. The only “care” that was given was as it related to abortions. So pregnancy tests for people wanting abortion. You know what I mean. There wasn’t – we didn’t do any outside service unless the people were coming there for that. So if we had open days, then we weren’t making money.

And then, the other piece was the men.… We were told to be nasty to the men. Because a woman who felt supported by her boyfriend or husband or partner was less likely to continue with the abortion. Now, again, that wasn’t the way it was phrased. It was, look, we don’t want him to pressure her to do something that she doesn’t want to do. So the best thing for us was to get him out of the waiting room. So if he came to the appointment with her, we would (now, in the state of Virginia at that time, you would make an appointment and then you had to come back the next day for your procedure. So the day of that first appointment, we would get him out the door as quickly as possible.

And we hoped that he would leave so when she came out of her initial appointment, he wasn’t there waiting for her. So again, “You’re all alone. He can’t even wait for you for the appointment. You’re abandoned.”… When the guy was probably freezing because we turned the AC on so cold that they would go and sit in their cars…

If a male called to make an appointment, we would give no information, we wouldn’t say anything to them, in fact we were rude to them, and I did a yelp of that clinic pretty recently, and that was one of the reviews that several people had said, that were men. So apparently, they’re still doing that.

But we didn’t want him in the picture, we didn’t want him in the waiting room, we didn’t want him around at all. We wanted her to feel alone. Because if she felt alone, she was more likely to continue [and have the abortion].

So it didn’t take very long of seeing through that and realizing, something about this just isn’t right. And I myself had come in alone. And so I knew how hard that was. I knew how scary it was, how hard it was to be that person, alone, sitting there.

The only specific instance that I can remember was, there was one girl that came in, and they called her a frequent flyer, because she was somebody who came in pretty regularly… It was more like, “Don’t even waste your time. She’s just a frequent flyer.” So it was like a lack of regard for her, for her care, for her getting the counseling, and all of the things that you’re supposed to do before the procedure, whether you’ve had one or you have 14 – you are still, there’s a procedure – for her they basically bypassed all of that. There were definitely comments in the back that I can remember that were – because women were sad. When this happened, they were sad.

Oftentimes, women would have regrets and they would second-guess what they were doing. But once you went through the doors from the reception back to the back, it was like, all bets were off. This is what we’re doing – you’re in the machine now, and this is how it’s going. And so, the comments were hateful. The way that the women would talk to the patients was terrible.

In the recovery room, there was no care, there was no compassion. It was more like, get up out of the seat so we can go home. And oftentimes, women left who should not have left. That had issues. That should not have left when they left.

Seeing all of that I’m like, okay, you don’t really care about these women, because if you did, when they were back in this room bleeding from the procedure, you would take care of them. When the woman says, hey, I think I don’t want to do this anymore, if you really cared about her, you’d say let’s talk about this, let’s make sure. Not, “Hey, this is what you came in for. Sit down and be quiet.”

So that coupled with the manipulation going on in the front coupled with, just things that I was seeing, I was like, this isn’t what I thought it was. This isn’t what I signed up for…

Meeks: did you ever push back with anybody or question it…and how are you treated with that?

Lester: I didn’t really, because – I mean Brandy, to be honest with you, they were paying me a lot of money. They were paying me a lot of money to do a job – I didn’t have any kind of skill, I was a bartender, you know, I didn’t have skills for this. So when they said it, it was like, okay, that’s just part of the job. So I didn’t push back. I don’t know that I ever really pushed back about anything, because the money was so good. The hours were great, because it was a short period. I was working pretty much part-time and making money like I was working full-time. So because of that, I just did what I was told.

My position was receptionist. So I would answer the phones. I would, when the women came in, I would give them their folders or their paperwork, then when they filled out the paperwork I would take it. I would then pass it off to the different people…pass the paperwork to a nurse, who would then check their weight, do their urine screen, and then go from there. Then once all that was together and done, I was in charge of the paperwork once it was done, filing it and putting it in the filing cabinet.

And then on days when we were doing procedures, it was intake, making sure that the files were ready, because at this point they were already pretty much completed with all that stuff, and then the release. So I would go into the recovery room and give them their cookie and their little thing of Kool-Aid and their stuff, and gather them up, and they’d go into a changing room. So I’d give them their stuff, they’d go into the changing room, and I would get them out the door.…

I was never in a procedure room. I was never in the POC room. But every other aspect of it I had my hands in.

Meeks: Definitely, the before and after, that I’m sure can still give you memories that might not be so pleasant, especially if you had women that you’re having to dismiss before they may be even ready to go.

Lester: Yeah, that was the biggest thing for me, because I went through the healing retreats with And Then There Were None, and this was 20 years after leaving the industry, and having gone through lots of healing for lots of different things, and thinking, I’m good. I’m going to go because this will be fun and I’ll get to meet some people – but I wasn’t good. And I realized at that retreat that for me… I always detached abortion with the baby. So even as a pro-lifer, I always have been focused on the mom. You know, always on her. And not so much on the baby in her belly. And part of that is because, for me, I couldn’t even think about that, you know, when I was going through those things.

But partly, what I have realized is because when I was working at the clinic there were women who not only left that day not being a mother because they had terminated their pregnancy and killed their baby, but there are women who now still, 20 years later, are still not mothers. Because they perforated their uterus, or something happened in the procedure that now has prevented them from being a mother. And many of them, in fact all of them, don’t know it. Because we didn’t tell them, hey, we did this, you need to be checked out by your OB, you need to go get a follow-up appointment.

We didn’t let them know that something happened. And so there are women who can, to this day, not be mothers because of what happened in the clinic.
And so that, for me, was something that I had to deal with. And at the retreat, that was what really impacted me. Because I wasn’t – I mean, I was dealing with the babies by proxy, but unlike some of the other women who were in the procedure room and in the POC room, I never saw the baby. But I did very much see the women.

And so that is where my heart lies. That is where my heart now, as somebody who’s pro-life, I want to see these women empowered and encouraged… Why didn’t I tell them, you can do this, you know? And I know why. I didn’t tell them that because I didn’t think I could. And so, if I couldn’t do it, why would I think you could?…

At the March for Life, she went to a “Coffee with Quitters” event and met people from And Then There Were None. 

And that I went over to the Coffee with Quitters and I listened to the women, and I was like, those are my people. Because they were strong and they were beautiful and they were vulnerable, and the way that they were interacting with each other, there was just – there was a preciousness. That’s the only way I can explain it. These women were a tribe. We say that, and it sounds so clichéd, but you could see it with these women. There was that common bond and I was like, those are my people.

Then COVID happened, and I got delayed from going to the healing retreats.
But the first healing retreat, the people that were there were all in different stages of their life, were different ages – one girl had been out of the clinic for three days. I think she just left. And one had been out 40 years. And we all had different roles and different jobs. But as soon as we got there, we’re sisters. We had a commonality that I’ve never had with anybody else.

And everything I’ve gone to, it’s been really fun meeting the other workers. The quitters. Sharing our stories, just being able to be real with each other. You don’t have to put on any pretenses, you don’t have to make it sound a certain way or worry that it’s going to come off crass, or worry that it’s going to come off sarcastic when it’s such a serious topic…

There’s ways you have to deal with stuff, and sometimes it’s humor, unfortunately, and sometimes it’s being cold. And we can do that with each other, and know why. Know that it’s not because you’re hardhearted or you’re an evil person, it’s because you suffered a trauma. Every day that you walked into that clinic, you were suffering a trauma…

It’s been unlike anything I’ve ever been a part of.

The workers, we are human. And we are flawed. And most of us, if not all of us, have suffered trauma in our lives, which is what brought us to the clinic. It’s hard to understand how someone could go in there every day and do what we did, or doing currently. And it’s really hard, when your eyes are open, to understand that. But when you’ve suffered trauma and when you are blinded to the reality of God, and the reality of hope, and the reality of life, you do things don’t make sense.

So these women and men who are in those clinics, they need a loving face. They need a smiling face, they need a word of encouragement. They need to know that you are for them. You’re not for what they’re doing. You don’t support their job. But you are for them. And you want to help them. And see them as humans. We want to make somebody the bad guy. And the workers, it’s really easy to make them the bad guy. But they are humans. They are children of God. They are mothers and daughters and sisters and brothers and husbands, and when they can come to the other side, they can be powerful tools in the pro-life movement, and powerful tools in other people’s lives.

You never know, that smile that you give to them when they’re coming into the parking lot to park their car, or that cup of coffee you give them, you never know when that’s gonna make the change. Imagine it was one of your kids, or one of your siblings in there. How would you want them to be treated? And when they come out, send them to us, because we’ll love on them, and be there for them and help them be the best them they can be.

Note: Religious beliefs expressed in testimonies may not always be endorsed by website owner. 

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Author: TA Smith

Sarah Terzo is a pro-life writer and blogger. She is on the board of The Consistent Life Network and PLAGAL +

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