Tennessee poised for change, state pro-life leaders say

If Supreme Court overturns all or part of Roe v. Wade based on Dobbs case, legal infrastructure in place to protect life

By Bill Brewer

As U.S. Supreme Court justices weigh the pros and cons of legalized abortion and states’ efforts to regulate the federally protected practice, Tennessee pro-life leaders are encouraged by the tenor of jurists’ questions and comments during the Dec. 1 hearing of Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization.

The Dobbs case is widely viewed as a benchmark for the Supreme Court to either affirm the precedent-setting 1973 case that first legalized the right of abortion in every state, Roe v. Wade, or strike down all or part of Roe. In the Dobbs case, the state of Mississippi banned most abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy. But the ban was struck down by a federal district court in Mississippi in 2018, and that decision was upheld a year later by the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans.

Baltimore Archbishop William E. Lori, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities, in speaking for the Catholic Church, is encouraging all Catholics to pray that the Supreme Court will allow states to limit or prohibit abortion.

“In the United States, abortion takes the lives of over 600,000 babies every year,” Archbishop Lori said. “Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health could change that. We pray that the court will do the right thing and allow states to once again limit or prohibit abortion, and in doing so protect millions of unborn children and their mothers from this painful, life-destroying act.”

The archbishop has directed people to www.prayfordobbs.com for Catholic and ecumenical prayers and resources for community engagement and action “as we await the court’s decision in this case.”

The Catholic Church maintains that the killing of unborn children is wrong and violates the teachings of Jesus Christ and His Church, which protect the sanctity of life from conception to natural death.

Mrs. Dunn

In Tennessee, the statewide pro-life organization Tennessee Right to Life has been closely monitoring the Dobbs case as it has made its way through lower federal courts to the Supreme Court. Stacy Dunn, president of Tennessee Right to Life, believes arguments in the Dobbs case went well for the pro-life position.

“A majority of the justices seem willing to reconsider Roe, which legalized abortion and wrongly declared abortion a fundamental right under the Constitution. I think the court would be hard-pressed not to undo what it did in 1973, which was to make up a right that doesn’t exist in the Constitution. The words ‘abortion’ and ‘right to privacy’ are not even found in the Constitution, but 48 years ago the Supreme Court claimed that killing unborn children was a fundamental right. Since then, more than 65 million children have died,” Mrs. Dunn said.

Mrs. Dunn and other pro-life leaders around the country are cautiously optimistic that change is on the horizon for abortion in the country, but they certainly aren’t overconfident. Prayers and hopes that a 1992 challenge to the U.S. abortion law would upend Roe were dashed in the landmark case Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey. In this case, the Supreme Court upheld Roe v. Wade.

But with justices appointed by conservative presidents since the Casey case now on the high court, pro-life groups have new-found hope that Roe v. Wade, all or in part, will be dismantled.

“For pro-lifers, it was so encouraging to hear the strong questions from Justices Thomas and Kavanaugh. Justice Thomas asked the abortion attorneys to explain how the Constitution protects the so-called right to abortion—it does not. He went on ask how a state’s obligation to protect children in the womb from their mothers’ drug use was any different from a state’s desire to protect them from abortion,” Mrs. Dunn observed. “Justice Kavanaugh’s response to the issue of overturning the precedent that was established in Roe also was encouraging. In their statements, the abortion attorneys leaned heavily on the need for the court to uphold Roe simply because it had been in place for almost 50 years. Justice Kavanaugh blew that reasoning out of the water when he stated that some of the court’s most important cases were ones overturning prior decisions.

“While Justices Breyer, Kagan, and Sotomayor worry about the integrity of the Supreme Court if they overturn the abortion decision, the truth of the matter is that the court will not have an ounce of integrity left if they allow Roe to stand. There is simply too much known now about the baby in the womb for the court to allow the destruction to continue. If justice is to prevail, Roe will have to go. Roe was wrongly decided, and a majority of the justices realize it. Will they have the courage and wherewithal to overturn 50 years of wrongly decided precedent? That is what we pray for. Too many lives have been lost because of Roe. It is time to undo the injustice and stop the destruction.”

Mr. Brewer

Will Brewer, legal counsel and director of government relations for Tennessee Right to Life, watched the proceedings remotely and studied the line of questioning during the Supreme Court arguments. Like Mrs. Dunn, who also monitored the proceedings remotely, he came away with a positive outlook for a pro-life decision.

“The votes are there to deliver a win to the pro-life cause and to return this decision to the states, which we believe is the right call,” said Mr. Brewer, a Knoxville lawyer. “But I also think that there are justices on the court that are very mindful of political influences on the court and how that’s seen by the public at large. We in Tennessee, at Tennessee Right to Life, feel like this state has let its voice be known on this issue, and we look forward to living in a post-Roe state if, in fact, the Supreme Court makes the right call.”

What impact could a pro-life Supreme Court ruling in 2022 have on Tennessee? Mrs. Dunn and Mr. Brewer agree that it will be a major victory, but it won’t end the fight for life.

“If the Court returns abortion regulation back to the states, that will be a tremendous step in the right direction. Unfortunately, that will not be the end of our fight for life. Some states are already preparing to become abortion destinations, where they will welcome abortion providers for the clients they will target nationally. Their advertising efforts will especially target women in states like Tennessee, where abortion would be prohibited. That’s why our outreach efforts will be as important as ever to protect the women and children in our state. We will continue working to ensure that our citizens are not entrapped or deceived by the efforts of the abortion industry,” Mrs. Dunn said.

Added Mr. Brewer, “I’m not going to pretend that, even if Roe is overturned, that the battle at the legislature will cease to exist. I think there will continue to be conflict there. And, as we all know, politics are cyclical.”

Mrs. Dunn said Tennessee already is being targeted by abortion activists for efforts to repeal state legislation if Roe is overturned.

“We will need to defend our state’s protective legislation and see what can be done nationally to pass a human life amendment so that life is protected and respected in all its ages, stages, and conditions. We look forward to the day when unborn children are protected by law in every state, not just some,” Mrs. Dunn added.

She pointed out that in 2019 the Tennessee General Assembly, seeing the day coming when Roe v. Wade would be overturned, passed the Life Protection Act, which says if Roe is overturned in part or in whole, then Tennessee’s pre-1973 laws will be restored and abortions will be prohibited except to save the life of the mother.

Mr. Brewer noted that under the Life Protection Act, someone performing or attempting to perform an abortion could face between three and 15 years in prison and fines up to $10,000.

In the meantime, Mrs. Dunn is preparing Tennessee Right to Life’s annual March for Life, held each January. It is the Knoxville version of the National March for Life in Washington, D.C. The local March for Life is set for Sunday, Jan. 23, at 2 p.m. at the Knoxville Convention Center.

She encourages pro-life East Tennesseans to take part in the march and show support, especially in this pivotal year, and to visit the Tennessee Right to Life, Knox County chapter’s website at www.prolifeknox.org for more details about the family-friendly event.

“The 2022 march will be one of increased optimism on one hand because of the hope of seeing Roe v. Wade overturned. Since the decision is not likely to be handed down until late spring or summer, we will be praying for the justices, their families, and all who have influence over them. At the march, we will urge increased resolve to continue in this struggle for life. The Supreme Court may well decide to stop the killing of unborn children, but the Biden administration is doing everything possible to expand abortion in our nation. The emphasis of the march will be to continue to build a culture of life, where abortion is not only illegal but also unthinkable. Our prayers and our efforts will continue,” said Mrs. Dunn, who is a member of Holy Ghost Church in Knoxville.

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