Challenges to pro-life efforts only ramped up following Supreme Court Dobbs decision
The East Tennessee Catholic
The truth has no exceptions.
This keynote message for the annual banquet of Tennessee Right to Life’s Knox County chapter on Oct. 5 reverberated through Bridgewater Place event center in Knoxville as East Tennessee pro-life supporters were informed that their efforts to protect the sanctity of life did not end on June 24, 2022, when the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade with the landmark Dobbs decision.
Their fight was just beginning a new phase.
Dr. David Reardon, director of the Elliot Institute and an associate scholar with the Charlotte Lozier Institute, shared his breakthrough research on abortion and its effects on women. Dr. Reardon is recognized as a leading expert on the aftereffects of pregnancy loss on women. His studies have been published in the British Medical Journal and the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology.
The Elliot Institute is engaged in research and education related to the effects of eugenics, abortion, population control, and sexual attitudes and practices on individuals and society. The Charlotte Lozier Institute advises the pro-life movement with scientific, statistical, and medical research through the contributions of more than 70 associate scholars.
Before Dr. Reardon shared his research, Tennessee Right to Life president Stacy Dunn shared an impassioned message of how the pro-life movement in Tennessee is facing increased threats, not only from pro-abortion activists but also from one-time political allies who are trying to weaken Tennessee’s Human Life Protection law, which is considered the strongest pro-life law in the country.
Mrs. Dunn, who is a member of Holy Ghost Parish in Knoxville, also has served as the executive director of TRL’s Knox County chapter.
“At last year’s banquet, we were right where we wanted to be. Celebrating the end of Roe and looking forward to making abortion unthinkable. We were living the dream,” Mrs. Dunn said. “But that dream didn’t last long. Before we could even say thanks be to God appropriately, we started hearing about legislators who were making plans to change the law. Some of them had formerly been our allies who voted for the law in 2019. But with Roe gone, they were changing their tune, saying that our total lifesaving law just went too far.”
“Really? After 50 years of unfettered abortion, how can we go too far?” Mrs. Dunn asked. “How can a law that protects the right to life of all unborn children go too far? How can a law that led to abortion facilities closing their doors, packing their bags, and leaving go too far? How can a law that is protecting 1,000 babies every month go too far?”
Mrs. Dunn was critical of lawmakers who have supported Tennessee’s pro-life stance but then earlier this year called for exceptions to state law that allows the abortion of babies who may have challenges at birth such as Down Syndrome, or who may be sick at birth and won’t live long, or whose fathers are “horrible criminals,” such as in the case of rape.
“Those children they would rather euthanize,” Mrs. Dunn said, referring to one-time pro-life lawmakers. “But we know that the truth has no exceptions. True pro-life legislators still want to protect all unborn children. They know that we like our law. We like that we are saving 1,000 children every month. We want to save all 1,000, not only 900, not only 975, but all 1,000 with no exceptions. They are all worth it.”
Mrs. Dunn noted that when the 2023 legislative session began last January, it was apparent at the outset that defending the Human Life Protection Act was going to be a battle. She said pro-abortion medical associations and large hospitals joined forces and spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in an attempt to weaken the law through exceptions.
And she pointed out that leaders in the state House of Representatives “tried their best to squash our voices by attempting to bully and embarrass us.” But pro-life legislators in the House and Senate, including the lieutenant governor, Sen. Randy McNally of Oak Ridge, who attends St. Mary Church there, as well as Gov. Bill Lee, successfully worked to keep the Human Life Protection Act intact.
However, House leaders were on record saying they would try again in 2024 to weaken the law.
Mrs. Dunn also acknowledged that public interest in the pro-life fight understandably waned after the Dobbs decision last year as did financial support. Tennessee Right to Life realized shortly after the Dobbs decision that the fight wasn’t over. It was just starting again.
“Everything we do, the billboards, the fairs, the exhibits, and even our work with the crisis pregnancy centers, all of these are important and needed to build a culture of life and to save precious babies. But we must keep our law strong in order to save the most lives,” she said.
Mrs. Dunn thanked a supporter who wanted to remain anonymous for giving a large financial donation that helped TRL make ends meet during the battle to keep the pro-life law intact.
“Of course, this was all in God’s perfect timing for sure,” Mrs. Dunn said. “In many ways, we have worked harder and come under more vicious attack now than in all the years when Roe was the law of the land. We have learned that overturning Roe was not the end; it was a new beginning. Tennessee’s lifesaving efforts have put a target on our back.”
Mrs. Dunn shared that in recent weeks there have been new assaults on Tennessee’s pro-life efforts.
She said in September a group from New York representing three women and two doctors filed a lawsuit to halt enforcement of the Human Life Protection Act the legislature passed in 2019.
“If this court challenge is successful at overturning the strongest pro-life law in the nation, it will start a domino effect across the country, and we will be no better off than we were before June 24 of last year,” Mrs. Dunn told those assembled for the banquet.
She then pointed to the Biden administration, which in recent weeks approved redirecting millions of federal dollars to Planned Parenthood that were meant for Tennessee under Title X. “The federal government withheld critical funding from Tennessee families so they could funnel taxpayer dollars to a radical political organization,” Gov. Lee said about the allocation shift.
The Title X funds are for low-income people to receive health care.
“Tennessee is saving lives, and therefore Tennessee is under attack. But as proud pro-life Tennesseans, we accept that. We accept the target on our back. We accept the betrayal of some we thought were with us. We accept the humiliation from those in high places. We accept it all on behalf of the 1,000 babies saved from abortion in our state every month,” Mrs. Dunn said.
Knox County Mayor Glenn Jacobs addressed the more than 350 people in attendance and told them he was grateful for their support for the pro-life movement.
“I really appreciate everything that Tennessee Right to Life has done here in the state of Tennessee. We are the strongest pro-life state in the country,” Mayor Jacobs said.
He warned the group that aspirations for power as well as political expediency are threatening the pro-life cause in the halls of government. He said lawmakers are no longer discussing what is wrong and what is right, which is feeding a culture shift.
“Someone sent me a picture of a young lady holding a sign that said, ‘If God can kill his only child, why shouldn’t we be allowed to kill yours.’ Shocking, isn’t it? Absolutely,” the mayor said, referring to a 2022 pro-abortion protest in downtown Knoxville after the Dobbs decision.
Also speaking to the large group of pro-life supporters was TRL legal counsel and lobbyist Will Brewer and state Rep. Jason Zachary of Knoxville.
“It’s such an honor to be here with so many people who we have been so engaged with for the last 10 years, really since Amendment 1 passed in 2014. Sometimes we forget that leading up to 2014 Tennessee was one of the top five states in the nation for abortion. Think about that. In 2014, because of the work of so many people in this room, we get Amendment 1 passed, and it literally changed the trajectory of our state and life in our state,” Rep. Zachary said.
“Then we passed the 48-hour bill, we passed admitting privileges, we then get to the 20-week ban. Fast forward 10 years later, when we passed the heartbeat bill and what we still refer to as the trigger bill. Think about this. Since the trigger bill went into effect in August of last year, 13,000 babies’ lives have been saved. Think about that. That’s incredible,” he added.
Dr. Reardon, a noted advocate for healing programs for women, men, and families who have lost children to abortion, miscarriage, and neonatal death, has published the books Aborted Women: Silent No More, Forbidden Grief: The Unspoken Pain of Abortion, and The Jericho Plan: Breaking Down the Walls Which Prevent Post-Abortion Healing.
In sharing research about abortion, Dr. Reardon said each abortion increases the risk of mental disorders by 23 percent. “Most abortions today are second, third, or fourth abortions,” he said. “Fifty percent of all abortions are repeat abortions.”
He cited a survey of 1,000 women aged 41-45, which found that 61 percent of them reported a high level of pressure to abort their child from other people or circumstances, and 23 percent reported substantial pressure to abort their child.
“That means 84 percent of these women reported high levels of pressure to have abortions. But you don’t hear about that,” Dr. Reardon said. “The presumption is that women are simply freely choosing abortion according to their own conscience … and we should not be in their way.”
Studies further show, according to Dr. Reardon, that only 33 percent of women said their abortion was wanted and consistent with their values and preferences; 47 percent said they accepted the need to have an abortion, but it was inconsistent with their values and preferences; 24 percent said the abortion was unwanted and contrary to their values and preferences; and 10 percent said they were coerced into having an abortion.
“This data is totally hidden from the public because they (pro-abortion movement) need to protect the myth that abortion is freely chosen and benefits women,” Dr. Reardon said.
He went on to say that for every one woman who claims abortion helped her, there are two women who say they were hurt by abortion. And there are three deaths.
“That is not good public policy. That is at best abortion for the convenience of a very few or at worst a social-engineering secret,” Dr. Reardon noted.
“The idea that an unwanted pregnancy is an unwanted child is simply false,” he continued.
Dr. Reardon shared anecdotes gleaned from research about women who were coerced into having abortions or who regret the decision to abort their child.
“Here is the shortcut to an abortion-free world. I’m really glad that you guys have banned abortions in this state. But obviously you still have the problem of (chemical) abortions coming into this state. You still have the problem of people referring abortions out of state,” Dr. Reardon said. “Well, the answer to all those things might be to pass laws that expand the right of redress for women hurt by abortions.”
He suggested there be an extended or no statute of limitations in those cases.
“I encourage Tennessee to pass the first state law that would allow women to sue for abortion injuries anytime in the past since 1972,” Dr. Reardon said to applause. “(The abortion providers) are not going to fear God. They’re not going to fear attorney generals. But they will fear (malpractice judgments). There are ways we can close the doors and create true liability and create public awareness for the fact that abortions are hurting women.”
“Medical doctors should be held accountable to make sure that procedures that they’re going to do actually benefit women,” he continued. “There is not one study showing a benefit from abortion, yet there are dozens of studies showing the harms associated with abortion.”