Mayra Rodriguez with Dave Franco
WHEN MY MOTHER TOLD ME THAT SHE WANTED OUR FAMILY TO LEAVE Mexico City and cross over to the United States, the idea was unthinkable. As a young woman, I dreamed of being a doctor in Mexico City. Mexico was my home.
My mother didn’t see it that way.
On several occasions I had been the target of slash-and-go boys on the streets; young marauders wielding knives who cut backpacks free from people to steal them. My brother had been a victim of a kidnapping, where he was forced at gunpoint to empty out his bank account. To my mom, it was just a matter of time before something worse happened to us. We got visas, packed our bags and began our long trek north.
When our visas expired, I learned that life for undocumented workers living in Arizona to be full of fear and uncertainty. Survival is a moment-by-moment existence; it pushes one to the extremes at all times. That is why on the day I learned about a place called Planned Parenthood from a fellow immigrant, I was filled with hope. They helped women with reproductive issues, my friend said, and one could work there even without papers. With my credential from Mexico as a lab tech in hand and my lifelong hope to be in the medical industry, I got on my knees and prayed. How I wanted something more for my life than working restaurant jobs or cleaning homes.
When I finally received an interview with Planned Parenthood, the fear I had that my friend might have been wrong about the company looking the other way on matters of legal status, was quickly put to rest. As a matter of fact, my interviewer lit up at my resume and hired me on the spot. It was a dream come true.
Now all I had to do was do a great job.
Arriving at the parking lot on my first day at Planned Parenthood, I was more than excited to show how hard I could work and how loyal I could be.
“You don’t have to do it. You don’t have to go in there,” a voice from somewhere in the distance called out as I walked from my car.
As I turned my head, a woman standing at the gates as if imprisoned by them, looked longingly at me. I put my head down and kept walking. ‘What’s that about?’ I wondered.
After my supervisor welcomed me kindly and said with a smile, “Pay those crazies no mind,” I began to settle in, trusting that I had nothing to worry about. It was the only hiccup to a great first day of what would become a great career. I didn’t know it, but I was about to experience an upward trajectory that few Planned Parenthood employees ever experience. Highly motivated as I was to “make it,” I worked hard, thought quick on my feet and got noticed right away. Suddenly I was on a fast track; I was shooting through the ranks like a rocket—even while expressing some moral distaste for abortion. But they were fine with it. I received promotions, commendations and greater responsibilities along the way.
In time, I was named Employee of the Year throughout all of Arizona and was ultimately installed as the director of the busiest Planned Parenthood in the state (I actually oversaw three clinics at once). My record within the company was flawless, never once receiving a reprimand or poor performance mark, and my respect among the executives was more than I could have ever wanted. I even found myself in Washington, DC lobbying Congress alongside Planned Parenthood Federation President, Cecile Richards.
With my career in high gear, a terrific salary and more benefits and perks than an undocumented worker could ever hope for, it was clear I was living the American Dream.
But I was about to have a rude awakening.
It started when I began to notice a strange pattern occurring in our abortion recovery room: complications, such as perforations, or girls experiencing all manner of mistakes that resulted in blood, pain and crying, seemed to happen on the days when one particular abortionist worked out of our office—the Medical Director of Planned Parenthood Arizona.
When I did some digging my eyes nearly fell out: 50% of all complications in the state of Arizona were connected to procedures from that one abortionist. Fifty percent. It was so shocking. How could it be?
About that time, there was a knock on the door from a physician’s assistant who had a terrified look in her eyes and something urgent to say. I ran down the hall to the wing where the abortions took place and found the abortionist leaving one procedure room and entering another.
“Doctor,” I said, “it’s come to my attention that you’ve concluded that the abortion you’ve just performed is complete, but no head has been accounted for.”
The angry, choice words the doctor had for me really had no effect—there was nothing to argue about. Either the doctor accounts for every body part before he leaves the room, or it is not finished. Where was he getting lost on the abortion protocol and how could he have possibly gotten there?
After he claimed that it was probably just a matter of inadvertently losing the head in the trash, he ordered an ultrasound to see if it was left inside the patient. It was there. He hastily and angrily sat back down to put that poor 19-year-old girl through her second abortion in 30 minutes, take out an IUD he had already inserted, remove the head and then, in a nearly impossible-to-fathom move, he began to reinsert the very same IUD.
“Doctor, no! You can’t do that!”
I returned to my office in a state of disbelief. This was no fly-by-night, freelance abortionist. This was our lauded doctor of many years who had the complete confidence of the Planned Parenthood executives to be placed in charge of all the other doctors in Arizona and yet he was as incompetent as someone masquerading as a physician; as if he faked his diploma using liquid paper and a good photocopier.
At the end of the evening, I went to the logbooks to see what he had entered, as was the protocol for all complications.
He left it empty.
He put no value on the girl who he almost released into the world with the severed head still inside her womb, a mistake that surely would have threatened her life. Yet he paid her no mind. My mind began to spin out. This kind of behavior was not done without other people knowing. For it to have gone on so long, there had to be many people, high and low in the organization, who were keeping quiet—or were made to. If 50% of all Incidents ranging from botched abortions, falsification of charts and patient records, illegal practices, unreported statutory rape, dangerous mistakes and injury could be traced to one doctor, why wasn’t he gone a long time ago? Planned Parenthood was dedicated to women’s health.
Or was it?
It was suddenly clear to me I had to go over his head. But I was about to poke the bear.
The upward trajectory of my career was soon to see a drastic change.
First things first. I had to make an airtight case against the doctor (let’s refer to him as Doctor X). I began by gathering and assembling all the evidence of every infraction that he committed; making exhaustive notes as well as copies and storing them in my desk. Doctor X was not going to go down without a fight; I had to have my ducks in a row.
When I had assembled a stack of infractions against him, I made a call to someone high in the organization who pinpointed the right person to whom I should send a fax, and thereby begin the process of officially accusing him. But just before doing so, I called my friend, a lead clinician of Planned Parenthood in AZ. “I need your advice,” I told her. “I’m about to do something big. I’m going to take down Doctor X—which could be explosive. I have copies of everything he’s done in my desk and it’s outrageous. He’s dangerous. He has to go.”
“Please wait,” my friend replied. “Our clinics are going through an accreditation process and if you start making noise about him, it’s going to throw the whole organization on its ear. We won’t stand a chance of getting the mark we need.”
She had a point. I decided I would think about it before making my next move. Now, what happened next is a bit unclear. Either my friend reported everything I was planning to do to her supervisor, who just happened to be Doctor X’s office manager for 30 years, or her phone call had been listened to by management, as is common practice at Planned Parenthood. Whatever the case, the supervisor ended up telling Doctor X what I was up to. His response: Mayra Rodriquez has to go.
That’s when I got a phone call. I was asked to come into the main office at Planned Parenthood to talk about issues concerning one of the clinics I managed.
It was all a ruse.
When I arrived, the director of HR was there along with the VP of Patient Services. They had a little surprise for me.
“This is a document that lists 30 of your infractions that have been accumulated over the years,” the HR Director said as she slid it in front of me. “Please sign that you’ve received these.”
On the document were things like patient complaints about me, reports of a poorly kept personal office, missing money and even missing instruments from the procedure rooms. For someone who had never had a reprimand in 17 years, it appeared I was a veritable whirlwind of negligence and criminal activity.
“This is all lies,” I said, knowing that I was being bullied, and why. “I’m not going to sign this.”
“Would you like to prepare a rebuttal?”
“Yes, I would,” I said. As I walked away that day, I was deeply rattled. My intentions had been found out and a plan for silencing me had already been started.
Over the next week, I was assigned to physically close down one of my clinics, which would necessitate not going back to my office for five working days. On the final day at the clinic I was closing, I was exiting the premises for the final time and before I did, I made one last glance inside my desk to make sure I hadn’t left anything. In it I saw, sitting all alone, a frayed little card. It was called ‘The Divine Mercy’. I had put it there years earlier after taking it off my windshield; it had been placed on my car by a Catholic organization. I turned it over. It read in Spanish: Jesus, I trust you. I had been so distraught about what had happened with Planned Parenthood that I saw it as a message from God: “You’re going to need to trust me on this.”
When I went back in front of the HR director two weeks later to take them through my 75-page rebuttal document, she had another surprise for me. “No need for you to make your case today,” she said. “Drugs were found at your desk in your office. You’re being terminated effective immediately.”
“Drugs?” I asked in shock. “That’s impossible.”
I tried to hold it together, but inside I could feel myself coming apart. What made it worse was this: the person they put in charge of my office while I was away was none other than Doctor X’s office manager.
I went home and lost it; I cried without restraint. What would I do now? I was an undocumented worker with a house payment and two kids in school. They knew I was as little and powerless as can be in the United States—an immigrant without legal status. Therefore, they knew all they had to do was raise the shadow of their Goliath over my David and I would never even consider making a move against them. For now, they were right.
At the same time, my office, because of the drugs that were allegedly found, had been turned into a crime scene investigation and therefore, no non-essential people were allowed inside. I started receiving texts from my fellow employees that people were inside shredding documents. I was certain my stack of evidence that enumerated all of Doctor X’s sins and infractions had been destroyed. The plot was thickening fast.
Two days later, I called a friend, who was a former Planned Parenthood employee, just to have someone to talk to. We spoke for a while when she suddenly changed the topic as if something was eating at her. “So, what is the outcome of all the drugs they found at your desk?”
I had not said a word to her about the drugs. It was clear Planned Parenthood was already waging a whisper campaign to sully my name. I was a little person who had given them 17 stellar years yet their tactics against me were ruthless. Was Doctor X really worth all this?
In time, I was invited to lunch by a woman I was familiar with for many years. Lynn had been praying outside our Planned Parenthood office for over 20 years and was the one who had called out to me as I walked through the parking lot on my very first day.
“I knew something was wrong when I didn’t see you going into work and then I saw lots of people in suits go into your office and shut the blinds,” she said with concern. “What’s going on?”
When I expressed my fear, state of mind and broken heart over the whole ordeal, Lynn offered to take me to see a priest. She knew my need was deep.
Sitting before the priest, it wasn’t long after I finished my story that the subject of the Divine Mercy card came up and how much it meant to me. His eyes widened. He revealed he was the one who left it on my car. God seemed to be reconfirming the message on the card: “You’re going to need to trust me on this.”
Only this time, by putting me in front of that particular priest, who had delivered it, he had another message for me: “I’m in control. I’m working things out behind the scenes.”
But there was more. It was through that priest and others that I was led to a lawyer who, the priest said, would be able to tell whether or not I had a case.
Did I want to have a case?
Attorney Tim Casey listened to my story and suddenly got a very confident look. “You have a case, Ms. Rodriguez,” he said. “If we go after them, they’re not going to get away with it.”
All at once, it was on. I was taking the giant, Planned Parenthood, to court. Now all I had to do was find a good slingshot.
For the two-week duration of the court case, Planned Parenthood, the billion-dollar organization backed by some of the most powerful people in the world, unleashed their lawyers to break me down and turn me into the most despicable human being possible. To stay sane, I sat there and thought of how God had spoken to me through the Divine Mercy and brought this moment into being. It also helped me immeasurably to know that Brandy Meeks from AND THEN THERE WERE NONE was in the courtroom holding me up in prayer after we were introduced by a friend. I wonder if Brandy will ever know how much her presence meant to me.
Apparently, my lawyer’s brilliant tactic of pushing Planned Parenthood to divulge the time they allegedly found the drugs—2:00 p.m. on that Friday I was away from my office—was critical. It turned out that was the day that I had been called by my staff after they couldn’t find keys to the POC room. “They are in my desk drawer,” I told them. If drugs had been there, they would have been impossible to miss by the three employees who went back and forth to my desk that day. They all testified that none of them saw drugs at my desk. Planned Parenthood was caught in a lie.
It took just three hours for the jury to deliberate. When they came back, Planned Parenthood was sunk. The jury unanimously ruled in my favor—I had been wrongfully terminated. In an amazing twist, they also awarded me three-million dollars from the Planned Parenthood coffers—and I never even asked for a monetary settlement.
Of course, it wasn’t like Planned Parenthood to cut me a check. I was broke and I would remain broke for long after. AND THEN THERE WERE NONE came to my rescue with financial help, Christmas gifts for my kids when we had nothing, and they have tended to my spiritual healing by paying for me to attend healing retreats. It is where I have come to terms with the kind of organization I was involved with for so many years. It is a dark place because they do two dark things. They take lives and they destroy their critics with dark ferocity. In addition, AND THEN THERE WERE NONE has also taken me to conferences where I freely tell my story. That has been healing, too.
My story shows that even when your stature is small, giants can come down. It all depends on the rightness of your cause and whether God is behind you.
POSTSCRIPT: Dr. X was revealed to be good friends with a top Planned Parenthood executive. He is still in his post as the Medical Director of Planned Parenthood Arizona. Mayra’s immigration status has changed and she is now a lawful permanent resident.