East Tennesseans’ faith comes to life

People throughout Diocese of Knoxville demonstrate their support for the sanctity of life

By Bill Brewer

The 2021 National March for Life in Washington, D.C., may have been canceled, but that didn’t stop East Tennessee pro-life supporters from marking the 48th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision with their own march.

Tennessee Right to Life’s Knox County chapter again organized the Knoxville March for Life, deciding to move ahead with it despite the national march being scratched, coronavirus concerns, and tensions spilling over from the presidential election and government transition.

Stacy Dunn, executive director of TRL’s Knox County chapter, said that after much consideration, not marching was not an option. She believes it was necessary to make a statement as pro-life initiatives and inroads continue to be challenged.

“The march absolutely made a statement. It said that the work we do to build a culture of life is essential and must continue even during these uncertain times, especially during these uncertain times. The abortion facilities haven’t closed their doors. They continue with their destructive agenda. Even when Gov. (Bill) Lee tried to close the abortion facilities at the beginning of the pandemic, judges ruled that abortion was an ‘essential’ service and thus they have remained open,” Mrs. Dunn said.

“While many churches have been closed, abortion facilities have been open for business as usual. Also, now that we have a president and vice president who want to expand abortion, our work is more important than ever. Through this march, we said our pro-life work is essential, and we will continue to work together to change hearts and save lives,” she added.

Some 500 people, ranging in age from children to seniors, held signs and walked through the Fort Sanders neighborhood next to the University of Tennessee campus to show support for the sanctity of life.

Those marching strode from Cumberland Avenue to the Knoxville Center for Reproductive Health, an abortion clinic at the corner of 16th Street and Clinch Avenue that serves the UT community. The facility is one of two abortion providers serving Knoxville.

Those participating in the march remained on sidewalks in front of the clinic and were escorted along the route by law enforcement.

Due to COVID-19 concerns, the March for Life had no in-person program or speakers as it usually does. As marchers arrived and parked, they were asked to listen to a local radio station in their vehicles for a pre-march message.

“Having a march this year was challenging, but we were determined to find a way to mark the day. In the past, the pioneers of the pro-life movement faced many obstacles, yet they always found a way to move the agenda forward. We knew we could do no less. With the current restrictions on large gatherings, we had to be creative. Once it became obvious that we would not be able to have our regular pre-march assembly, we started pursuing other options,” Mrs. Dunn said.

Father John Orr, pastor of St. Mary Parish in Athens, leads parishioners in a rosary for life across from Planned Parenthood in East Knoxville on Jan. 22.

“We wanted to be prudent but bold, so we found a way to keep people safely distanced and still have the march. We obtained permission to use the 11th Street Garage and asked marchers to park and remain in their cars and tune their radios to Joy 620 WRJZ. Radio host Bob Bell welcomed everyone via his live broadcast, Congressman Tim Burchett addressed the crowd, and pastor Todd Stinnett of Black Oak Heights Baptist Church prayed and directed the marchers to the parade route,” she noted. “TRL could not have put on the march had it not been for Bob Bell and WRJZ, the wonderful volunteers, and the Knox County Sheriff’s Office, which helped with parking, traffic, and security. With their help, marchers went down Clinch Avenue, past one of Knoxville’s busiest abortion facilities, to Cumberland Avenue, and back to the garage. It wasn’t a very long march but it was powerful.”

Mrs. Dunn said organizers of the National March for Life faced a much different situation when they decided to do a “virtual” march this year. She said they not only were confronted with the challenge of trying to distance hundreds of thousands of marchers but also that of keeping marchers safe in a very volatile atmosphere at the nation’s capital, noting that it is sad the national march didn’t happen this year, “but it was the right decision in the current climate.”

All Saints parishioners Duane and Debbie Donahoo agreed that participating in a public pro-life march was important. The Donahoos typically take part in the annual Knoxville March for Life as well as Rosaries for Life that the Diocese of Knoxville organizes. Two days before the TRL March for Life, the Donahoos were praying the rosary in front of the Planned Parenthood abortion clinic in East Knoxville to offer a prayerful, peaceful witness to the sanctity of life.

“Knoxville’s Sunday March for Life was a heartening success. Especially in this current government environment, we needed an authentic portrayal of our country’s pro-life zeal,” the Donahoos said. “Not only in Knoxville, but across the country, people braved difficult circumstances to proclaim their dedication to protecting the unborn. The wide array of generations marching proves the concern for protecting babies in the womb as a God-given right, gift, and responsibility.”

The Donahoos said they were especially motivated to show their support for life this year.

“In view of this new administration’s hostility to and attack on the unborn, it made us even more determined to participate openly in TRL’s Knoxville March for Life,” they said.

Orville Fisher, a member of St. Mary Church in Athens, was heartened by the response of Knoxville marchers as the Washington march was called off.

“I was thrilled to see such a strong showing by so many pro-lifers. Teenagers, families, and more than a few of our elderly knew this was the only place to be. We’re all so appreciative of Stacy Dunn and all the folks at Tennessee Right to Life,” Mr. Fisher said.

“It was a shame the Washington, D.C., march got canceled, but that hasn’t stopped our commitment in Knoxville. We know now more than ever the unborn are under attack, and we’ve all got an obligation to stand up and defend life. Roe v. Wade has always been fluid, it’s never been settled, and we’ll keep showing up until our country gets it right,” added Mr. Fisher, who serves as East Tennessee Respect Life chairman for the Knights of Columbus.

Tim Brown, a member of Our Lady of Fatima Church in Alcoa and life director for the state Knights of Columbus, usually takes part in the National March for Life and was glad to march somewhere this year.

“I was very disappointed that we weren’t allowed to go to Washington and march. I haven’t missed that opportunity in a long time. But it probably was a wise decision,” Mr. Brown said.

He said the Knoxville march shared similarities with the Washington, D.C., event although smaller in size.

“I was pleasantly surprised by the turnout this year, not only by the number of marchers but how it mirrored the march in Washington. There were young families and young mothers pushing strollers,” Mr. Brown said.

Mrs. Dunn was impressed by the number of young people who participated in the march as well as the older pro-life supporters who continue their prayerful demonstration.

“The youth give so much hope to those of us who have been in the pro-life movement for a while. Today’s young people are inundated with messages about justice. It is powerful to see these young people bring their energy and passion to the march to say, ‘This injustice must end,’” Mrs. Dunn said.

“Just as inspiring are the ones who come year after year who have been in the struggle for life for many years. For example, this year, two wonderful ladies who were unable to actually walk the route, were undeterred. They parked in the garage and prayed their rosary while others marched. That kind of dedication is an incredible witness for the rest of us,” added Mrs. Dunn, who is in her 14th year leading the Knox County chapter of TRL.

She also serves as vice president of the state board of Tennessee Right to Life.

Mrs. Dunn, who with her husband, Bill, and their family are members of Holy Ghost Church, is grateful to the pro-life supporters and volunteers who give their time and effort in various public ways.

“I am inspired by the faithful witness of those who come to the march, those who stand vigil during 40 Days for Life, those who pray at Planned Parenthood on a regular basis, and those who sidewalk counsel at the facility at 16th and Clinch. These are selfless people who take time to pray and speak for those who they will never even meet. They do it for no reward other than to be faithful to God’s calling to be a witness for life. It is a true act of love,” she said.

And Mrs. Dunn continues to be encouraged by the prayerful witness of so many pro-life supporters of all faiths.

“I think pro-life people here want to continue the work for life even in a time when it may not be easy. We realize that we don’t have a president or a Congress that is going to do the heavy lifting of pro-life work. However, it is no time to fade away or cower in the face of adversity. Now more than ever we must rededicate ourselves to prayer and put one foot in front of the other as we do this work that God has called us to. Lives depend on it,” she said.

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