Knoxville event draws hundreds to celebrate an abortion-free Tennessee
By Gabrielle Nolan
Jan. 22 would have commemorated the 50th anniversary of Roe v. Wade.
It would have, if not for the fact that the legislation legalizing abortion throughout the United States was overturned by the Supreme Court on June 24 in the landmark Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision.
This reality informed the theme for this year’s Knoxville March for Life celebration, which was “Goodbye to Roe, Hello to Life.”
The annual march is 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.
Stacy Dunn, president of Tennessee Right to Life and executive director of TRL’s Knox County chapter, gave opening remarks to those assembled at the Knoxville Convention Center on Jan. 22.
“It does matter that you are here, and it matters that so many of you have been here year after year after year. You have been so very faithful. But more importantly, God has been faithful,” she said.
“On June 24 of last year, the Supreme Court finally decided what has been known since 1973, there is no right in our U.S. Constitution to kill unborn children,” Mrs. Dunn said. “That decision came too late for the more than 63 million children who have lost their lives under the decision that was wrong from the beginning.”
“The overturning of Roe returned the responsibility of protecting unborn children to the state legislatures. Tennessee was more than ready and happy to accept that responsibility,” she continued. “See, in 2019 we saw this coming. So, Tennessee Right to Life helped to pass the Human Life Protection Act, which said that when Roe was overturned our pre-1973 protections that were on the books would be restored and abortion would once again be illegal in our state with a provision for the life of the mother.”
Mrs. Dunn, a longtime member of Holy Ghost Parish in Knoxville, noted that on Aug. 25, Tennessee’s Human Life Protection Act went into effect and now it is a Class C felony to intentionally take the life of an unborn child or attempt to do so.
Elected officials in attendance at the March for Life rally included state representatives Ed Butler, Bryan Richey, and Jason Zachary; Knox County Commissioner Rhonda Lee; Knox County Board of Education member Steve Triplett; and Knox County Mayor Glenn Jacobs, who spoke to the pro-life crowd.
“We live in the best place in the entire world, but sometimes that actually works to our disadvantage because we’re in such a good place that we have a little complacency, maybe some naivete, about what’s happening,” Mayor Jacobs began. “We look out from our little safe bubble at the rest of the country and we think, man those people are lunatics, right? That’ll never happen here. Then, trust me, as mayor I found out I can never say that because it does end up happening here.”
Mayor Jacobs referenced the pro-abortion protests in downtown Knoxville’s Market Square after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade.
“Nowadays, it’s shout your abortion, be proud of what you’ve done … that is a cult of death is what that is,” he said. “And that was right here in Knox County, Tenn. It wasn’t in New York City, it wasn’t in San Francisco. It was right here in Knox County, Tenn.”
Mayor Jacobs also addressed reports out of Nashville that the General Assembly wants to reevaluate the “trigger” law, which he stated is the “strongest anti-abortion, pro-life law in the country.”
“That’s happening right here in Tennessee, and that cannot be allowed to happen,” he said, noting that having a strong pro-life movement may be more important now than ever.
“So, thank you all for having the courage to stand up for your convictions, for being here, and for protecting life here in Tennessee,” Mayor Jacobs said.
During the opening remarks and prayer, pro-abortion protestors inside the building could be heard shouting outside of the doors to the Convention Center ballroom.
“Today is a day we can look up and we can hear those voices of those babies crying out, saying thank you. We have some voices that we hear, but don’t let those little babies’ voices ever be silenced,” said Knox County Commissioner Lee, responding to the protestors’ chants.
Ms. Lee read a resolution honoring the right to life, which she previously presented to Knox County Commission. The resolution, which would mark the month of January as Right to Life Month in Knox County, was voted on and passed Jan. 23.
Will Brewer, a Knoxville lawyer who also serves as director of government relations and legal counsel for TRL, spoke during the ceremony and invited those in attendance to contact their lawmakers.
“Stay in contact with your legislators, please. We are in a battle that is ongoing,” Mr. Brewer said. “We are celebrating today; we are celebrating the wisdom of the Supreme Court; we are celebrating the wisdom of the Tennessee General Assembly for passing the Human Life Protection Act in 2019, but we also are leery and cautious that at any given moment that could change.”
“We are always one election and one General Assembly away from the complete overturning of the Human Life Protection Act,” he continued. “Dobbs only said it was up to the states. Right now, this state says we prohibit abortion, but the state could change its mind. So, it’s up to you all to remain vigilant and to make sure that doesn’t change.”
Mr. Brewer, a member of Holy Ghost Parish, explained that the Human Life Protection Act, also known as the “trigger” law, bans all medical and surgical abortions in Tennessee except when a physician believes a woman’s life is in danger or there is an irreversible threat to her physical health.
As the Tennessee General Assembly reconvenes for its 2023 session, some state lawmakers have expressed a desire to change the Human Life Protection Act.
Father Michael Woods, pastor of St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Fairfield Glade, delivered the closing remarks and Benediction.
The march began immediately after the ceremony concluded. The number of participants was reported at around 500 on the cloudy and damp 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.”
The march, which began at the Convention Center, had a slightly different route this year, going down Cumberland Avenue to reach the corner of 16th Street and Clinch Avenue.
Marchers paused for prayer by the building that previously housed an abortion facility, the Knoxville Center for Reproductive Health, which closed last year following the Dobbs decision. The building now has a “For Lease” sign in the front yard.
“Tennessee’s law is honestly one of the strongest in the nation, and it has made a difference,” Mrs. Dunn said. “That building, where for decades children died and women cried, that building is now empty, has been sold, and is for lease, praise God.”
Married couple Blake and Morgan Chapman, parishioners at Holy Ghost in Knoxville, attended the local march.
“It was my first time; I’ve always wanted to go in (Washington) D.C., just was never able to,” said Mr. Chapman. “It was very crazy, very impactful.”
He noted that they were near the back of the march line, where protestors were actively following the march.
“We were kind of catching the brunt of all the counter-protestors, which was crazy, but we were just praying a rosary… I was pretty much screaming the rosary the whole time,” Mr. Chapman said. “It was a lot of spiritual warfare going on, but it was really impactful.”
Mr. Chapman, who works with campus ministry at the University of Tennessee, is also very passionate about the pro-life movement and wanted to “get as many people out here as possible” for the march.
Mrs. Chapman is currently pregnant and said the march “definitely hit home a lot more” and she “felt the emotions of it all a lot more.”
“I have been to the March for Life in D.C., and it was just really cool to do that here in Knoxville where we live and just support life… super powerful,” she said.
Looking toward the next pro-life rally and march, Mrs. Dunn noted that it is likely Tennessee Right to Life will mark the anniversary of the Dobbs decision on June 24.
Mrs. Dunn said she does not want people to forget that for almost 50 years there was a “holocaust that Roe allowed.”
“We never want to forget what has happened in our land and that so many babies have died,” she said.
Legislation also continues to be a top priority for Mrs. Dunn and Tennessee Right to Life.
“As far as legislation, we’re going to try to keep our law strong, the one the people of Tennessee and their legislators passed, so that we’ll be able to protect all unborn children,” she said. “Then we’ll also be working to make sure taxpayer funding does not go to take vulnerable unborn children across state lines to have them aborted.”
For more information about Tennessee Right to Life, visit www.tnrtl.org.