Threat of protests from fringe groups forces annual event indoors; overflow crowd of pro-life supporters turns out
By Bill Brewer
The 43rd annual March for Life took a different route this year to mark the anniversary of the 1973 Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision on abortion.
East Tennessee Catholics and pro-life supporters from around the area took part in this year’s march, which turned into a rally at the Knoxville Convention Center after threats deemed “credible” by the Knoxville Police Department were made to Tennessee Right to Life, which sponsors the march.
A crowd estimated at 700 filled a convention center ballroom Jan. 21 and overflowed into the lobby to share its opposition to abortion, receive updated news from Nashville on the pro-life front in Tennessee, and hear remarks from several candidates for governor.
The yearly march typically begins with a brief gathering before those attending walk to the site of a Knoxville abortion provider. However, Tennessee Right to Life began receiving e-mails several days before the 2018 event warning that fringe groups planned to disrupt the March for Life as well as a separate women’s march scheduled for downtown Knoxville.
After consulting with police, who informed Tennessee Right to Life that the threats were real, TRL decided to keep the March for Life indoors.
Stacy Dunn, director of the Knox County chapter of Tennessee Right to Life, thanked the hundreds in attendance and explained the unexpected change in plans.
“I want you to know that you are the most prayed for people ever to come to this event. You don’t know it, but people have been praying for you for many days, many hours. This event has been covered in so many prayers that you can almost feel the angels in the room,” Mrs. Dunn said.
“Once we received credible information, we went to the Knoxville Police Department, who confirmed that white supremacists as well as Antifa had threatened to be here today. They (police) advised us that we did not want to be in the crosshairs of that. Since then, KPD has been advising us on the best way to make sure this event still took place and that we were able to keep you as safe as possible and away from the harassment of these groups,” Mrs. Dunn explained.
Tennessee Right to Life issued a statement in the days leading up to the March for Life to let the community know how regrettable it was that any group, whether right-wing extremists or leftwing extremists, or an individual would attempt to draw attention to themselves and their own agendas at an event meant to focus on unborn children and their mothers in a peaceful and prayerful way. The statement also said any group that promotes dehumanizing world views is not in tandem with Tennessee Right to Life’s position on the value of every person’s dignity and life.
“We are here because of the possible threat to your safety. We have made adjustments to this year’s March for Life event, and I cannot overstate how much we appreciate all the help that we have received from the Knoxville Police Department,” Mrs. Dunn said.
“But I don’t want these things to cloud why we are here today. We are not here for the controversy; protecting life should not be controversial. We are not here for a pity party of woe is us. We offer all our suffering up to the Lord for the babies. And we are not here to cower in fear of some innocuous threat. We know Almighty God is here with us and what the enemy has meant for evil, He will use for good,” she added. “We are here to stand for life. We are here to be a voice for the unborn children. We are here to stand for the protection of women who are exploited by a ruthless abortion industry that preys on fear. We want nothing more than to stand in solidarity against the greatest holocaust of our time.”
The enthusiastic crowd, made up of many young couples with small children, cheered and held signs in support of the pro-life effort, which received good news in recent weeks. On Jan. 9, the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati struck down a federal court ruling and upheld the state of Tennessee’s 2014 vote in favor of Amendment 1 to the state constitution.
Will Brewer, director of government relations for Tennessee Right to Life, told those gathered at the March for Life rally that the appellate court decision was a victory for all pro-life supporters in Tennessee.
“The original lawsuit requested that the votes be recounted or for the results to be nullified. This lawsuit is one more example of pro-abortion activists refusing to trust the ‘common sense and compassion’ of Tennesseans who voted to approve Amendment 1 on Nov. 4, 2014,” Mr. Brewer said.
Mr. Brewer also outlined prolife measures that have been moving through the legislature since Amendment 1 was approved.
He noted that in 2015, the legislature approved informed consent for women and girls considering abortion, a 48-hour waiting period, and required inspection and licensing of abortion facilities by the state health department.
In 2016, the legislature approved a ban on the trafficking of fetal remains and signed consent by the mother as to the disposition of fetal remains.
In 2017, the legislature passed the Tennessee Infant Protection Act that requires testing for viability when a woman seeks an abortion and the unborn child is determined to be 20 weeks in gestational development. An abortion is banned if the child is determined to be viable.
Mr. Brewer said that in 2018, Tennessee Right to Life will work with legislators to turn into law a 2012 Haslam administration policy that prioritizes Title X family planning funds to ethical healthcare providers, including county health departments and federally qualified health centers.
The pro-life supporters also heard brief remarks from gubernatorial candidates Bill Lee, Randy Boyd, and Diane Black. The candidates touted their prolife stances and told the ballroom filled with voters how they would support pro-life state legislation and policies. Mr. Lee is a Middle Tennessee businessman who is chairman of Lee Co. Mr. Boyd is an East Tennessee businessman who founded Radio Systems Corp. He also has served as an adviser to Gov. Haslam and as economic and community development commissioner in the Haslam administration. Mrs. Black represents the 6th congressional district of Tennessee in Congress.
Also in attendance were Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett, a candidate for the second congressional seat now held by Rep. John J. Duncan Jr., who is not running for re-election; state Rep. Jimmy Matlock, R-Lenoir City, who is running for the second congressional seat; Jason Emert, also a candidate for the second congressional seat; Navy veteran Vito Sagliano, who, too, is running for the second congressional seat; state Sen. Becky Duncan Massey, R-Knoxville; Republican state representatives Bill Dunn, Roger Kane, who is running for Knox County Clerk, Jason Zachary, and Jeremy Faison; Anderson County Mayor Terry Frank; and Campbell County Mayor E.L. Morton.
Mrs. Dunn told those in attendance that in addition to celebrating life, they were there to celebrate major political and court victories such as a new U.S. Supreme Court justice and the first president to ever address the national March for Life.
But she underscored the point that they also were there to mourn the loss of more than 60 million unborn children since 1973 and to pray for those who have been wounded by abortion and are now mourning their own children.
“We are here to cry out for mercy for our nation that we have allowed legalized abortion in our land for 45 years and we ask God to give us the strength, wisdom, and guidance to bring it to an end,” she said.
“We also come to celebrate. We celebrate that nationally abortion numbers are declining. We celebrate the fact that in Tennessee, we have pro-life majorities in the state senate and state house and that seven of our nine congressional districts are pro-life,” Mrs. Dunn added.