Events in Chattanooga, Knoxville attract hundreds of supporters
By Gabrielle Nolan
Multiple March for Life events took place across the state of Tennessee as Jan. 22 commemorated the 49th anniversary of Roe v. Wade legalizing abortion throughout the United States.
Knoxville and Chattanooga held marches for participants to walk through their communities holding anti-abortion signs while joining in prayer and community to give witness to the pro-life cause. This year’s theme was “Equality begins in the womb.”
The annual marches are sponsored by Tennessee Right to Life (TRL), a nonprofit and non-sectarian pro-life advocacy organization that is affiliated with the National Right to Life Committee in Washington, D.C.
Local chapters throughout the state give volunteers an opportunity to advance pro-life events and messages within their own communities.
Monica Irvine, a board member for the Knox County TRL chapter, spoke at the opening presentation before the Knoxville march on Sunday, Jan. 23, at the Knoxville Convention Center on Henley Street.
“It feels good to be here with you. It feels good to know, today, we did something for the unborn,” Mrs. Irvine said. “They need us. All of the babies who deserve to live, need us, and you have met the call today.”
Mrs. Irvine invited the crowd to pray for U.S. Supreme Court justices as the nation awaits the decision on Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, a case arguing the constitutionality of a Mississippi law banning abortion after 15 weeks.
“The adversary has a strong, loud, determined voice today,” she said. “He speaks through many voices, many organizations, many elected officials. He says things like, ‘We have a right to privacy,’ ‘The right to control my own body,’ ‘The right to choose whether my baby lives or dies.’ Today, the adversary encourages women to shout their abortions and to be proud of choosing to take the life of their child.”
“May you and I never forget that it is the still, small voice that calls to you and to I,” Mrs. Irvine continued. “It is the Savior’s voice that asks us to be His hands, His feet, and His voice.…May you ask the Lord to direct you to what He would have you do, to be His voice.”
Mrs. Irvine shared a story of when two young women approached her as she volunteered at a TRL pro-life booth at the Tennessee Valley Fair.
“They were ready for a fight,” she said. “The first words out of one of their mouths were, ‘So, we assume that you’re one of those people who believe that abortion is wrong no matter what.’”
But after 45 minutes of questions and discussion, the women’s stance softened, and they became more receptive to the pro-life arguments.
“They left our booth with a few important comments,” Mrs. Irvine recounted. “One said, ‘This has been the most informative conversation regarding abortion I have ever had. Thank you for listening to us. You have given me many things to consider that I have never thought of before and I can’t wait to share this discussion with my friends.’”
“If we ever believe that this work is anyone’s work but God’s, we will fail in our efforts to protect life,” Mrs. Irvine said. “But when we remember that protecting life, the life that God gives, is His work and His glory, then we don’t have to be afraid of tough questions, of family and friends who disagree, of uncomfortable interactions with others. We just have to show up, and be willing to stand and testify of truth. That is what you are doing today.”
The number of participants was reported at just over 600 on the chilly and sunny afternoon.
Participants carried homemade signs and banners with many creative and unique designs, and Tennessee Right to Life provided signs expressing statements such as “Choose life,” “Stop Abortion Now,” and “Follow the Science.”
“Those who attended this year’s march were filled with the hope that this may be the year that Roe v. Wade is finally overturned,” said Stacy Dunn, president of Tennessee Right to Life and executive director of TRL’s Knox County chapter.
The march began at the Convention Center, making its way through World’s Fair Park and Fort Sanders to the corner of 16th Street and Clinch Avenue, where the local abortion clinic, Knoxville Center for Reproductive Health, is located on the corner.
Orville Fisher, a parishioner at St. Mary Church in Athens, attended the national March for Life in Washington, D.C., and the local march in Knoxville.
“It’s just important that we make a presence,” Mr. Fisher said. “It’s important that everyone in the pro-life movement realizes that it takes everyone, that it can’t just be about a few leaders or about the legislature. So, when they have the March for Life here, it’s important that everybody be represented, and so I make a point of it.”
Greater Chattanooga Right to Life, another affiliate of TRL, hosted its first-ever march in downtown Chattanooga on Saturday, Jan. 22. Participants met at Walker Pavilion at Coolidge Park on River Street and marched across the iconic Walnut Street Bridge.
Among the 300-plus participants were several youth and young adults from local Catholic groups.
“There is an irony in our current culture that, I believe, needs to be resolved,” said Hannah Morais, a sophomore at Notre Dame High School in Chattanooga.
“We are told to be bold, to be brave, to face our fears… except when it comes to the fear of bringing a new life into the world,” Miss Morais said. “We’re told to never give up and to keep persevering, even when things get hard… except in the case of an unexpected pregnancy. We’re told to follow the science… except the scientific fact that life begins at the moment of conception.”
“While it’s wrong to downplay the fear and uncertainty of women experiencing unplanned pregnancies, the hypocrisy of the culture is also wrong,” she continued. “I marched to raise awareness of the true sadness and violence of abortion, and to show that there are alternatives to abortion that hold greater benefits for both the mother and the child.”
Donna Jones, the Chattanooga Deanery coordinator for youth and young adult ministry and a youth minister at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish, didn’t know what to expect from the city’s first-ever March for Life.
“I have always been to the march in Washington, D.C., every year, but I was blown away by the turnout!” she said. “We had over 300 people show up, and a great Catholic presence! The whole group felt connected to our purpose!”
Ms. Jones noted that Chattanooga is the largest U.S. city without an abortion clinic.
“We worked really hard years ago to have it closed and continue to work on keeping Planned Parenthood out,” she explained. “We feel blessed here in Chattanooga that we don’t have an abortion clinic, but we still feel the need to march to make our pro-life beliefs known.”
“This (Chattanooga TRL) chapter is working hard to keep its city free from an abortion facility as Planned Parenthood has hired staff in the area,” Mrs. Dunn said. “Having a successful March for Life was a strong witness of how people are coming together to protect their community from Planned Parenthood’s deadly agenda and the devastation of abortion.”
After the march, members of the Catholic Charities Pregnancy Help Center spoke to the youth about what they can do to help and what they can say to a friend who may experience an unplanned pregnancy.
“As I work with the youth, I realize that they are being told very loudly all the pro-choice arguments, so we need to continue to teach our youth to follow the science, what the Church teaches, and to stand up for the most vulnerable, the unborn,” Ms. Jones said. “I do believe our younger generation is becoming more and more pro-life, which gives me hope. The youth that showed up Saturday are strong in their beliefs for the pro-life stance.”
The event concluded with a rosary at the National Memorial for the Unborn, located on the site where the former abortion clinic stood nearly 30 years ago. Letters and gifts from parents are left beside the brass plates bearing the names of those children lost to abortion.
More than 60 million lives have been lost to abortion in the United States alone since the Roe v. Wade decision in 1973, statistics show.
Data from the Tennessee Department of Health reports that 10,880 abortions took place in the state in 2018. Since 1973, over 652,487 babies have died from abortion in the state of Tennessee.
For more information about Tennessee Right to Life, visit www.tnrtl.org.