'Give us a chance': Chattanooga march champions sanctity of life

Staff Photo by Robin Rudd / Saturday's March for Life moves south on the Walnut Street Bridge.

Echoing the national march in Washington D.C. the day before, around 300 people gathered in Coolidge Park on Saturday morning to protest abortion and support changes to better support the unborn.

The city's first March for Life included prayer, song and personal testimony before the group marched from Coolidge Park across the Walnut Street Bridge and back to the north side of the river on the Market Street Bridge.

"We are here to stand for the right to life of all persons, and that includes the unborn," said Candy Clepper, president of Greater Chattanooga Right to Life, which organized the rally. "We know that they are not honored in our society, and that's what we're here to try to bring awareness to, the sanctity of human life."

The Saturday rally coincided with the 49th anniversary of the Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade that established a nationwide right to abortion under the 14th Amendment. The annual national March for Life in Washington D.C. was held Friday.

Last month, the Supreme Court heard the case of a Mississippi law banning abortion after 15 weeks. In its arguments before the court, those defending the Mississippi law asked the court to overturn all of its previous decisions upholding the right to abortion.

Abortion opponents see the case as the best opportunity in recent memory to overturn or severely weaken the 1973 decision by the court. Sue Kronberger, who attended the Saturday march, said any step the court can take in the direction of ending the evil of abortion is good.

(READ MORE: Chattanooga will face even larger abortion desert if Roe v. Wade is overturned)

Ashley Coffield, CEO of Planned Parenthood of Tennessee and North Mississippi, said in a statement abortion protections are more fragile than ever 49 years after the Supreme Court ruled on abortion.

"This anniversary reminds us how fragile the right to an abortion is in Tennessee and across the country," Coffield said in the statement. "By this summer, the Supreme Court could officially erase nearly 50 years of precedent and allow our state's dangerous ban on abortion to take effect, endangering the lives of countless Tennesseans."

If the Roe v. Wade case is overturned, decisions about abortion would return to individual states. Tennessee, and 20 other states, have a variety of laws already in place that would ban or severely curtail abortion access once Roe is overturned, according to the Guttmacher Institute, which advocates for reproductive rights.

Those laws protecting unborn children would leave large swaths of the nation, including much of the Southeast, without a nearby abortion clinic.

Chattanooga and Southeast Tennessee have not had an abortion clinic for nearly 30 years after the only such clinic closed in 1993. Part of the clinic was converted into the National Memorial for the Unborn, which opened a year later and remains in operation.

The Saturday rally included opportunities for anti-abortion supporters to get involved in like-minded local groups, such as Choices Chattanooga, a crisis pregnancy center, and The MOMentum Network, a Christian empowerment organization for mothers. Attendees could also sign a petition against Planned Parenthood, which hired two staff members last year for the area to raise awareness and provide education on reproductive health.

Planned Parenthood employees locally and leaders with the Tennessee chapter have repeatedly denied accusations their services are not needed or wanted in Chattanooga.

"Despite the constant attacks from out-of-touch politicians and anti-abortion extremists, Planned Parenthood has been welcomed to Chattanooga with open arms, because people here need access to unbiased health education and support our mission to provide the full range of reproductive health care, no matter what," Coffield said in a statement.

(READ MORE: Abortion opponents mark closure of Chattanooga's only clinic 28 years ago)

Molly Stults, 14, came to the Chattanooga rally from the Johnson City area with a group of young people from St. Mary's Catholic Parish. This was her first event like this, she said, but she wants others to see the value of unborn life.

"I believe that every child has to have a chance for life, to grow up and be who they want to be," she said.

Stults marched carrying a sign reading, "Made in the image of God. Give us a chance."

Students for Life of Southeast Tennessee is hosting a rally in Coolidge Park on Sunday at 2 p.m. to protest Planned Parenthood. William Reynolds, director of the group, said the rally will include speakers, prayer and a march across the Walnut Street Bridge to the Ed Johnson Memorial, which recognizes the lynching of an innocent Black man on the bridge in 1906.

Reynolds said there are parallels between Johnson's murder and abortion, which is why the rally will end there.

"We think that's a great reminder with how valuable life is," Reynolds said.

Contact Wyatt Massey at wmassey@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6249. Follow him on Twitter @news4mass.