Celebrating life in all its ages, stages, and conditions

Tennessee Right to Life recognizes women who have overcome obstacles to live their very best lives

By Bill Brewer

Life, in all its ages, stages, and conditions was praised on Oct. 15 when some 350 pro-life supporters gathered for the Celebrate Life Banquet sponsored by the Knox County chapter of Tennessee Right to Life.

The annual dinner, held at the Knoxville Convention Center, celebrates the pro-life movement in East Tennessee and is a fundraiser to help Tennessee Right to Life continue its advocacy for the protection of life. TRL works with state government to promote pro-life legislation and also provides education on sanctity of life issues at the grassroots level.

The 2019 Celebrate Life Banquet recognized families with special needs members who have overcome obstacles to live their very best lives. Attendees also heard from a candidate for the U.S. Senate from Tennessee who described how God intervened in his and his wife’s efforts to have children.

“It’s an honor to be in this work. And I count it as a privilege to work with each one of you as we try to build a culture of life and restore protections to unborn children and their mothers. We are all in this together, and the babies need each and every one of us,” said Stacy Dunn, executive director of the Knox County chapter of Tennessee Right to Life.

Ashley DeRamus

Mrs. Dunn thanked the pro-life supporters for diligently backing the right to life to the point where abortion numbers across the state are declining. But she urged them to keep up the fight in the face of stepped-up promotion of abortion by some politicians and pro-choice groups like Planned Parenthood, including late-term procedures and even the killing of babies after their birth, or infanticide.

“The best news to report is that Tennessee’s number of abortions is down again. Fewer unborn children are dying in Tennessee as our abortions are at the lowest they have been since 1974, praise God. Much of this is due to the hard work that our pro-life legislators do in Nashville. In the state legislature, great things are happening,” Mrs. Dunn said.

“Our pro-life legislators this year passed one of the strongest pro-life bills in the country, the Human Life Protection Act. This trigger bill, as it’s referred to, will take effect, or be triggered, when Roe vs. Wade is overturned in whole or in part.

When that happens, and we hope and pray that that will be soon, then Tennessee’s pre-1973 laws will be restored, and abortion will be prohibited except to save the life of the mother.”

“With a pro-life president who is appointing more and more judges at every level, we are hopeful that Roe’s days are numbered, please God. And it won’t be a day too soon. We know we have to be getting close to that day when the pro-choice crowd is getting more and more desperate, and more and more absurd. It is sad and almost unbelievable that every Democratic presidential candidate supports extreme positions like what happened in New York in January last year. The American people don’t support that. But you know what? With every extreme move they make, the average American sees how absurd killing unborn children is,” she added.

Banquet attendees heard from Dr. Manny Sethi, an orthopedic trauma surgeon at Vanderbilt University Medical Center and a candidate to succeed Lamar Alexander in the U.S. Senate.

Dr. Sethi thanked Bill and Stacy Dunn for their tireless pro-life efforts. Rep. Bill Dunn, R-Knoxville, who has been among the staunchest pro-life supporters in the state legislature for 25 years, recently announced he will not seek re-election. He told the banquet attendees the right to life is critical to him and pledged to protect life if elected to the Senate.

He described how in his medical practice he encounters many patients who are near death but hold on to life and recover, which has helped form his pro-life stance and belief in God. He also praises God for the two young children he and his wife now have after years of complications in getting pregnant.

“So, we went to this Krispy Kreme, where we try to solve all of our problems. My wife looked at me and said, ‘if the Lord wills us to have children, then that is what will happen.’ Now, after many, many procedures and after many years, we have two beautiful children, a 6-year-old and a 3-year-old. God has truly blessed us,” Dr. Sethi said.

Before the keynote speakers took the dais, Mary Birge delivered her award-winning speech that she gave at the Tennessee Right to Life pro-life oratory contest in Nashville earlier this year.

Miss Birge, an 18-year-old member of Holy Ghost Parish in Knoxville, described how she has persevered with dwarfism despite a physician urging her mother while pregnant to get an abortion after prenatal tests detected her condition.

“Here’s what baffles not only me, but my family, too. This is the first time this doctor had seen me, heard my heartbeat, or even spoken to my parents. Yet, she strongly suggested that they make the biggest and worst decision any parent could make,” Miss Birge said.

“Has our society gone so far as being accepting of some of the most outrageous things but can’t accept a child that thinks a little slower or looks a little different? Our accepting society has given so many rights to so many people, yet it has taken the rights from one of the most innocent — the children, the babies, the generation yet to come,” she continued. “Our society speaks about wanting our laws to be equal, but what is just about letting a mother decide whether her child lives or dies? What is OK with wanting to provide equal rights for all but excluding the one group that deserves equality more than anyone else? Nothing is equal, nothing is OK, nothing at all. Every person deserves a right to life.”

The keynote speakers were Connie DeRamus and her daughter, Ashley DeRamus, who has Down syndrome.

Similar to Miss Birge’s mother, Ms. DeRamus was given three options when she delivered Ashley and it was determined the baby had Down syndrome.

“The first option was to go ahead and put her in an institution so we wouldn’t have to worry about her. We could put her up for adoption, which I thought, ‘What makes somebody else a better parent than me?’ Our other option was to take her home and do the best we could with her,” Ms. DeRamus said.

Connie DeRamus and her daughter, Ashley DeRamus, are partners in Ashley by Design, a clothing line for people with Down Syndrome.

Experts told Ms. DeRamus that Ashley probably would never walk, talk, or have self-help skills. But Ms. DeRamus began providing physical therapy for Ashley when she was 3 weeks old, which led to more specialized care for the child.

“As Ashley grew, she went to elementary school. When she was 8 years old, she started swimming and swam in the state (Alabama) Special Olympics. She swam for 19 years and has 45 medals for swimming,” Ms. DeRamus said, further explaining that one of the challenges for people with Down syndrome is finding clothes that fit right because their body types differ.

To help solve that problem, Ms. DeRamus conceived a plan to produce clothes for Down syndrome individuals, and Ashley has been her partner. Now, Ashley by Design clothes are sold at conventions for families with Down syndrome members. Ashley by Design hires young people with Down syndrome to work at the company’s booths, and they are paid the prevailing wage. Ashley DeRamus manages the workforce.

Ms. DeRamus said her daughter has won many awards, including National Down Syndrome Society Advocate of the Year, National Down Syndrome Congress Advocate of the Year, and International Down Syndrome Advocate of the Year, which she accepted in India.

“As has been mentioned, 67 percent of babies with Down syndrome are aborted as soon as the mom hears the diagnosis. In Europe, the number is 85 percent, and in Iceland, the number is almost 100 percent, which they are very proud of that statistic,” Ms. DeRamus said.

“Ashley speaks all over the country to schools, churches, universities, and events. We hope one day these kids who are listening to us, especially the high school and college kids, if they happen to have a Down syndrome baby one day, they will see from their time spent with Ashley that it is not a bad thing. It is different, but it is not bad. We just pray that we make a difference. These babies are worth living; they are given by God; they are created for a purpose. And everyone has a purpose. Ashley, her purpose is phenomenal. It really is.”

Ashley DeRamus said among her accomplishments, in addition to Ashley by Design, are reciting the Pledge of Allegiance and singing the National Anthem at events in all 50 states and accomplishing work toward Coast Guard certification as a mate on a tall ship.

“It’s been very difficult to be a Down syndrome kid. I would get my feelings hurt some. But I’ve had good times,” she said. “Since I was a little baby, I never dreamed I would have the best mom I have. She is. We do everything together. My mother says, ‘Don’t let anyone tell you what you can’t do. You show them you can do.’”

Monica Irvine of Tennessee Right to Life, who emceed the banquet, thanked “these beautiful women who have used their voices to make a difference.”

“It is clear that because of you, Ashley and Connie, you are saving lives. You are giving people with special needs hope that life is good, that life is worth living. Thank you for going out and living your life and being out in public so that people can see the preciousness of life,” Ms. Irvine said.

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