Gov. Lee lauds grassroots advocates for their work and support of the unborn; update on legislative initiatives given
By The East Tennessee Catholic
Women from across Tennessee joined together March 22 in Nashville in a demonstration to state lawmakers and Gov. Bill Lee of their support for pro-life legislation and policies.
More than 200 people, including a contingent of Diocese of Knoxville parishioners, gathered at the Musicians Hall of Fame and Museum event venue in the state capital for a daylong convocation of prayer and praise for efforts to stem abortion. In addition to their hearing from Gov. Lee, the women also visited with their state representatives in the Cordell Hull Building at the state capitol to share their thoughts and concerns.
The 2022 edition of Pro-Life Women’s Day on the Hill took on an especially sobering tone as the country braces for a U.S. Supreme Court ruling this year that could either reinforce the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that made abortion legal in every state or could result in overturning the historic ruling.
Dot LaMarche, a member of St. John Neumann Parish in Farragut and a longtime pro-life activist in East Tennessee, was again in attendance for Women’s Day on the Hill and found the conference inspirational in light of so much activity in the pro-life movement around the country.
“It’s a wonderful thing that Tennessee Right to Life provides for women across the state of Tennessee to inspire them to be better in fighting abortion. My favorite people are the unborn and the elderly, and that’s who I’ve always worked for,” said Mrs. LaMarche, who received Tennessee Right to Life’s Lifetime Pro-Life Advocacy Award in 2021.
She pointed out that pro-life activists have worked hard for decades to turn the tide on abortion, and she is hopeful the Supreme Court will overturn Roe v. Wade in a decision that could come as early as June, sentiments shared by Gov. Lee.
“This is an extremely important time in the pro-life history. That would be a wonderful victory for us. We’ve worked long and hard,” she said. “If Roe v. Wade is overturned and it comes back to the states, we already have the law in place that makes it so much better for us. We’re very fortunate to live in the state of Tennessee.”
Mrs. LaMarche was referring to the possibility that the Supreme Court ruling will leave it up to each state, and not the federal government, to decide whether to make abortion illegal. Tennessee already has passed a trigger law that if Roe v. Wade is overturned, abortions would automatically be illegal in Tennessee.
Tomi Robb from East Tennessee valued the chance to meet with state lawmakers to make her opinions and concerns known face-to-face.
“The opportunity to take groups to speak to representatives is something that is really rare. Being able to take a whole group and say, ‘Hey, we just want to speak with you, we just want to thank you, we just want to encourage you, we want to let you know what we do or why we do it.’ It’s just a great opportunity to have conversation,” Ms. Robb said.
“There is nothing more important than conversation and looking someone in the face and telling them what you actually think so that you’ve said what you wanted to say, they’ve heard what you wanted to say, and we know what we’re talking about. That is the most important thing,” she added.
Like so many of her peers, Ms. Robb is encouraged by the support she is seeing, especially among youth.
“I think the light is breaking through in all sorts of ways. You see our young people, the newest generation, is more pro-life than the generation before them, partly because of technology and partly because of these legal cases. I think the tide is turning, and it’s incredibly important right now to keep pushing, to keep telling the truth,” she added.
Mary Wilson was among the contingent of Diocese of Knoxville women who traveled to Nashville in support of life, and she was glad she did.
Mrs. Wilson, a member of Holy Ghost Church, was emboldened by the number of women from West and Middle Tennessee sharing her excitement and concerns.
And she’s hopeful that together with grassroots support, legislative support, and legal support, widespread abortion will soon become a thing of the past.
Angel Brewer, state treasurer for Tennessee Right to Life who emceed Women’s Day on the Hill, said the women who convened for the conference are vital in sending a message to elected officials that the pro-life cause is important to the state.
“Pro-Life Women’s Day on the Hill is a wonderful opportunity for women from all over the state to gather and focus on the issue of life. It is a time to meet with legislators, share ideas and experiences, and receive inspiration. The women who participate always leave energized and ready to take on another year of defending the sanctity of life in all its ages, stages, and conditions,” Mrs. Brewer said.
“It is important for our elected representatives and senators to know that their constituents are genuinely engaged for the cause of life. It is not just a plank in a political platform but a matter of life and death. The women who participate in Pro-Life Women’s Day on Hill send that message loudly and clearly, and we believe it is well received,” she added.
The women began the day with a welcome from Angela Madden, vice president of Tennessee Right to Life, who is from Sevier County.
“It is always a blessing to my soul to be with those who are motivated and filled with His truth and love. It is good to be about our Father’s business,” Mrs. Madden said as she segued into the opening prayer.
Mrs. Madden enumerated the pro-life victories occurring around the country as more states like Texas, Arizona, West Virginia, Kentucky, Idaho, and Tennessee get tough on the killing of children in the womb. She also listed the challenges facing those opposing abortion, such as states like California and New York doubling down on pro-abortion laws and the federal government’s strong support of such laws.
“Twenty-four states have banned telemedicine abortions. This legislation has become so important because the (U.S. Food and Drug Administration) in-person dispensing requirement for prescriptions of these poisonous drugs was permanently dropped last December,” Mrs. Madden said.
“There’s also a focus on chemical abortions; abortion-pill reversal laws like the one we have in Tennessee have been enacted in 14 states. We should see more as the year progresses. As you can see, legislation, laws, nominations, and elections are critically important to our fight to protect lives from conception to natural death,” she noted.
The women in attendance then received an update on federal and state legal and legislative efforts to restrict abortions. Will Brewer, a Knoxville lawyer and director of government relations for Tennessee Right to Life, explained pro-life efforts in other states and the impact, if any, they may have on Tennessee. He also updated the women on the process he Supreme Court uses in deciding cases, including the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization that could overturn or drastically alter Roe v. Wade. The Supreme Court decision could come as early as late spring or early summer.
“We are blessed in this state to have a pro-life supermajority in the state legislature,” Mr. Brewer said. “You see places like New York and California that just continue to get more and more radical. Gov. Gavin Newsom is going to use state funds to transport women to California to abort their children if Roe is overturned. So, what a blessing it is to live in this state.”
Tennessee Right to Life has for years promoted legislation to restrict abortion, and 2022 is no different. The nonprofit organization, whose leaders include Diocese of Knoxville parishioners like state TRL president Stacy Dunn, is backing legislation affecting the growing trend of telemedicine in prescribing abortion pills.
And TRL and the state of Tennessee are defending laws passed by the legislature that are being challenged by pro-abortion groups like Planned Parenthood.
After a lawsuit challenged the state’s 2015 law requiring a 48-hour waiting period from when a woman goes into an abortion facility for her initial consultation until when she can come back for her abortion, the law was upheld, and even pro-abortion groups acknowledge it is now the law of Tennessee.
“We know that this law is saving children’s lives. … But we are used to 50 years of defeats in the courts, and it has gotten us down. The legislature is our homefield advantage. And that tide is turning. This law was challenged by the opposition. Six years later, this law has reached its final outcome. In 2021, the 6th U.S. Court of Appeals upheld this law, and the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear it. Finally, this case is over, and the 48-hour waiting period is on the books. We now have the longest waiting period in the country that has been upheld by the courts,” Mr. Brewer said.
Another impactful piece of legislation that TRL backed was the 2019 “trigger” law that says if Roe v. Wade is ever overturned, abortion would automatically be outlawed in Tennessee.
Mr. Brewer also noted Tennessee’s “heartbeat” law signed in 2020 by Gov. Lee that bans abortions after a fetal heartbeat has been detected, typically at six weeks of gestation. The law was immediately challenged by pro-abortion groups and is making its way through the courts.
Mr. Brewer credited the governor for being a strong pro-life supporter of adoption and crisis pregnancy centers for years and for bringing those alternatives to abortion to the forefront since being elected governor in 2018. Those alternatives also are endorsed by the pro-life women attending the Nashville conference.
Two priority bills that TRL is advocating in 2022 are an amendment to existing legislation that requires a physician to be present when prescribing medicine to induce an abortion. Currently, there is no penalty for violations of that law. The amendment would require women seeking abortions to not only be in the presence of a physician when being prescribed abortion pills but being in the presence of a physician when abortion pills are dispensed, too. The penalty for violating this law would be a felony with a fine of up to $50,000 and exposes physicians to civil liability and fines and sanctions by the physicians licensing board.
The second piece of legislation prohibits any individual or organization actively advocating for or performing abortions from teaching sex education in schools, which strengthens an existing law.
TRL was endorsing legislation moving through the General Assembly that would prohibit local government bodies from providing money to abortion facilities. Mr. Brewer explained that this bill was prompted by the Shelby County Commission, which gave an abortion facility $25,000 to install a playground to entertain the children of women seeking an abortion in promoting “a family friendly environment.” That bill is no longer being considered this year.
Gov. Lee credited his wife, Maria, with being a longtime, staunch defender of life and introduced her at the conference. He described their shared advocacy for the unborn as “an incredible blessing.” Mrs. Lee also attended the conference.
“The bottom line is every single one of us is created by God in His image, and we’re created at the moment that we are created. That’s the fundamental thing that we have to remember. And if you believe that, then protecting human beings is incredibly important. I see that as an obligation that we have, and I’m very proud to join you in this work,” Gov. Lee said.
The governor thanked the women for their long journey in defending life.
“It’s always worth engaging in. It’s always worth relentlessly pursuing. Regardless of what happens this month, or this next summer, or next year, or the year after that, the unborn will need to have someone to speak for them because they are voiceless. You all have been doing that, and I’ve been very, very grateful for that,” Gov. Lee said.
He noted that the state has been working to prepare itself for “a very hopeful moment in this country that many of you have been engaged in for many, many decades.”
He explained that Tennessee is strengthening its foster-care system, adoption processes, and support for new mothers in addition to strengthening pro-life laws such as the heartbeat law.
“Let me be clear, your work, your advocacy, your passion, your continued relentless pursuit of protecting the lives of the unborn is going to be manifest. Your prayer, you asking God to deliver, will manifest. I trust Him, and I trust that,” he said.
Gov. Lee’s comments were loudly applauded by all those in attendance, including a group representing St. Cecilia Academy, an all-girls Catholic school in Nashville.
Members of the group included St. Cecilia students, parents, and teachers, including one who is a Dominican Sister of the St. Cecilia Congregation.
St. Cecilia Academy parent Elizabeth Phillips believes the Pro-Life Women’s Day on the Hill is an important event, even more so this year.
“Now, it’s more important than ever. We’re certainly thankful for the safeguards that our state legislature has put in place already. But with the Dobbs decision coming forth this summer, we have to be ready to jump into action to protect the unborn with extra legislation if need be and keep the common-sense safeguards we already have,” said Ms. Phillips, who is a parishioner at the Cathedral of the Incarnation in Nashville.
Ms. Phillips is encouraged by the number of women who gathered in Nashville and is convinced they are making an impact, especially when they are meeting one-on-one with their legislators.
Sarah Dalske, a St. Cecilia Academy parent and a parishioner at St. Mary of the Seven Sorrows Church in Nashville, found Women’s Day on the Hill “very hopeful.”
“It makes me proud to be in Tennessee. I originally come from California, and that’s a state kind of losing hope. I’m so grateful to be in a state where there are active members of our government who recognize the right to life is probably the most important right. Today was full of hope for me. It’s so good to see all of the ages, women and men, coming together from all over the state and working for life,” Ms. Dalske said.
She noted how good it was to hear that there are actions in the pro-life cause that anyone can take.
“Whether it’s in politics, or social media, or in your life, there’s a role for everybody to do something to bring awareness to this issue,” Ms. Dalske said, pointing out that support for the right to life is seen in all age groups.
“I see a difference in the younger generation. I was born in 1979, so I see it, and I think more and more you can see it. These children have grown up missing their peers, missing their siblings, missing their cousins. That is something very visible to them,” she added, pointing out that her daughter, who is a junior at St. Cecilia Academy and who has participated in the National March for Life in Washington, D.C., and also took part in the March for Life in Nashville, joined her for the daylong pro-life event.
Louisa Bateman, who teaches high school juniors and seniors at St. Cecilia Academy and organized the group’s participation in Women’s Day on the Hill, said she is grateful to be teaching in a school where she can have pro-life discussions with her students.
“The motivation for me to bring some of my students to Women’s Day on the Hill first and foremost is to see it in action in the real world. You can talk and talk and talk and talk, but seeing these women, and these men, and our elected officials who are really fighting for the rights of the unborn—just seeing it—is huge. Seeing it in action and the different ways they can be part of the movement, whether it’s through prayer, advocacy, legal and political ways, and seeing how they can use the gifts God has given them and use their understanding of humanity and life and how to put that into action is having an impact,” Ms. Bateman said.
The St. Cecilia students, their parents, and their teachers are now motivated to reach out to their legislators and share their support for life at all ages and stages.