Pro-life advocates credit legislation, 38 years of prayers, vigils for ‘moment of grace’
When Lisa Morris saw a moving van outside a Knoxville abortion clinic, signaling the facility’s closure after nearly four full decades in business, she called it “almost a surreal moment.”
“I just stopped. I pulled in and got out and said a Hail Mary,” said Mrs. Morris, a Sacred Heart Cathedral parishioner and longtime pro-life advocate. “It was an unbelievable moment of grace, of God’s faithfulness, of years and years of people’s prayers and sacrifices—just perseverance of the people and God’s faithfulness, and it was Mother Mary’s intercession. It was just so evident to me.”
The Volunteer Women’s Medical Clinic at 313 Concord St. began packing Aug. 14 and shuttered its doors. A real estate sign in front of the complex advertising space available went up one day later, on the solemnity of the Assumption. The clinic, which opened in 1974, had been the site of peaceful protests and weekly rosaries for years, as well as 40 Days for Life observances in more recent years.
“It’s amazing the number of people who have offered their prayers and spent time in prayer and sacrifice for the unborn,” said Paul Simoneau, director of the diocesan Office of Justice and Peace.
Deb Walsh, owner of the clinic, explained in an online posting the reason for the closure.
“A law that went into effect July 1, 2012, called The Life Defense Act, made it illegal for our local board-certified OB-GYN physician to perform abortions in our fully licensed ambulatory surgical treatment center. The law requires doctors who perform abortions to have local hospital admitting privileges.”
Stacy Dunn, executive director of the Knox County chapter of Tennessee Right to Life, said “we were very glad to see that the legislation, the Life Defense Act of 2012, is working as it was intended to, by ensuring that if an abortion provider does not have admitting privileges in a local hospital, that he or she cannot perform abortions in Tennessee.
“For Tennessee Right to Life, that was our major piece of legislation for the 2012 session, and so we’re glad to see that it’s working as we intended.”
Mr. Simoneau tried to put a figure on the number of abortions performed in the clinic’s 38 years.
“I think it would be safe to say that there have been an average of up to 2,000 abortions a year at that one clinic site, and so you do the math and it’s no exaggeration to say that at least 70,000, maybe 80,000 or more unborn had their blood spilled in that building,” he said. “That’s just an incredible loss of life. One life is one too many, but as many or more than 80,000? I mean, that’s truly the Holocaust of our time.”
Paul Dunn and wife Mary of Holy Ghost Parish in Knoxville are longtime veterans of the Saturday morning rosaries at the clinic. The Dunns prayed at the clinic in the 1970s but more so after Mr. Dunn’s retirement in 1986, he said.
“It was a couple of years after that when we started full time, most every Saturday.”
Mr. Dunn said he is “very happy” that the clinic has closed.
“I think that people praying the rosary down there on Saturday morning for many years closed the clinic,” he said. “I think right now of people like Bob McMillan and Andy Smith, both of whom are now deceased. They were faithful down there for many years.
“There was also the 40 Days for Life and other events down there, which priests and the bishop participated in—that brought a lot of people down there. There were a lot of people not Catholic who came down there and prayed their own prayers.”
Mary Dunn is “elated” over the clinic’s closing, said her husband. “She mentions it was open 38 years, and it took St. Monica 40 years for her prayers to be answered,” he said.
When 40 Days for Life went nationwide in 2007, that was a turning point in the prayers for the clinic’s closure, said Mr. Simoneau.
“We were very excited about the new cadre of the pro-life army—people who had never thought about coming out to the clinic and praying,” he said.
Mrs. Morris said the 40 Days movement ushered in “a new era, a new phase of people who had never witnessed publicly.”
Health violations were uncovered last spring at the Concord Street clinic and the Knoxville Center for Reproductive Health at 1547 Clinch Ave. [June 3 ETC], but “the straw that broke the camel’s back” in the Concord Street clinic’s closing was the state’s Life Defense Act, Mrs. Morris said.
“Dr. Richard Manning, who was at the Concord clinic, had let his admitting privileges lapse, and he opted not to try and renew them and just decided he was done, so having said that, they were struggling to find another doctor to come in and do it,” said Mrs. Morris.
Tennessee Right to Life, “with their legislative action and working with legislators to see common-sense laws put into place,” is also to be credited for the clinic’s closure, said Mr. Simoneau.
Knoxville still has the abortion clinic on Clinch Avenue near the University of Tennessee campus as well as a Planned Parenthood facility in East Knoxville.
“I think the real danger of Planned Parenthood is that their whole agenda is to have our kids reshape their thinking, to go down that road from kindergarten on,” Mrs. Morris said. “They have an agenda to get their message out to young people, and they know in a generation or two they will change the culture, and so that’s really to me the insidious danger of Planned Parenthood.
“It’s not only that they’re the largest abortion provider in the country, which they are, but also that they are targeting our children to make sure that that ideology grows.”
The pro-life army has one victory to its credit with the clinic’s closing.
“There’s still a lot of work to be done before we can rid the nation of this abortion scourge,” said Mr. Dunn. “[The clinic’s closing] is a battle won, but the war’s still on.”
Mrs. Morris agreed.
“It’s an awesome victory, a God-given victory, but there’s still a lot more work to do,” she said.
Mr. Simoneau said “we continue to pray for the clinic workers past and present, that they’ll have a real conversion of heart and that they’ll see what the culture of death really is.”
Until Knoxville becomes like Chattanooga, which has no abortion clinic, “we still need to have a witness,” said Mr. Simoneau. “We’re so close to seeing our city become like Chattanooga, a city of life, and so we can’t even really say it’s a celebration in the sense that abortion is completely eradicated from our city—it’s still a presence.”
Legislation and prayers “came together for the same end,” said Stacy Dunn. “It worked together to see that—as we know it right now—babies won’t die at 313 Concord for the foreseeable future,” she said.