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Staff photo by Wyatt Massey / The cross inside the National Memorial for the Unborn in Chattanooga, Tennessee, is pictured on March 23, 2021. The city's only free-standing abortion clinic was converted to the memorial in 1994. Chattanooga has not had an abortion clinic since.

A nondenominational megachurch near downtown Chattanooga has entered the local fight against Planned Parenthood, with a petition opposing any influence by the organization on local schools and a fundraising campaign to provide abortion reversal treatments.

Critics of the church's effort say there is no effort to change school curriculum and that Planned Parenthood's programs have support among local families.

Also, there is little scientific research on the effectiveness of the abortion reversal treatment that the church is promoting. A 2019 study of the treatment was shut down due to safety concerns for the female participants.

Over Mother's Day weekend, Seth Gruber, an abortion opponent at the national level, spoke at several Calvary Chapel Chattanooga services. He told the congregation the abortion industry was "knocking at this city's door" and that God uses people to address social problems.

"As long as our government denies and ignores the natural right to life of an entire class of human beings, we cannot trust that government to protect any other right that flows from the first and most important of all rights," Gruber told the congregation during the Saturday service.

Gruber's speeches kicked off a campaign at Calvary Chapel for prayer, a petition to Hamilton County Schools and a fundraising campaign for the abortion reversal treatment. Calvary Chapel and its senior pastor, Frank Ramseur, did not respond to a Times Free Press request for an interview.

In March, abortion opponents began organizing after news broke that Planned Parenthood was hiring two full-time staff members — a community organizer and a health educator — in Chattanooga. The organization has not had a full-time staff member in the city since 2005, but officials and local supporters say there is growing support in Chattanooga for Planned Parenthood and the services it offers.

In other cities, Planned Parenthood runs peer-to-peer education programs for teenagers to become educators among their friends to discuss things such as healthy relationships, body image concerns, sexually transmitted infections and identifying warning signs of suicide.

The program can provide a more comprehensive sex education than what children receive in school, said Elisabeth Bradner, director of education for Planned Parenthood of Tennessee and North Mississippi.

"Parents tell us that while they know they are the primary sex educator for their youth, they could use a little bit of help," Bradner said. "And that's kind of what we're there for, to fill in the gaps and the spaces where folks either don't feel equipped or feel uncomfortable to have those conversations."

A peer education program is not operating in Chattanooga as the organizer is canvassing residents to see what kinds of programs they want. Any peer education program would not involve the school system, Bradner said.

Nevertheless, opponents of the organization are signing onto a petition to Hamilton County Schools Superintendent Bryan Johnson and the school board to "to stand up for the health of children in this district and protect them from the abortion-minded curriculums that Planned Parenthood brings to cities."

More than 2,200 people have signed Calvary Chapel's petition, which alleges Planned Parenthood is trying to implement a new curriculum in the schools.

"We want to maintain our conservative values and continue to put the emphasis on families, to educate their children in sexual health and allow parents to make the decisions for when it is time to have the more detailed conversations regarding gender and sexuality at home," the introduction to the petition reads.

The state determines the health and wellness learning standards for local schools. For example, in sixth grade, students are taught to "identify the difference between abstinence and risk behaviors and why abstinence is the responsible and preferred choice for adolescence," as well as "identify how the media influences risk behavior related to teen pregnancy."

In seventh grade, the goal shifts to "identify the positive benefits of abstinence from sexual activity outside of marriage" and in eighth grade the objective is to "describe the social, emotional, and economic impact associated with teen parenting."

Cody Patterson, communications officer for Hamilton County Schools, said the school district does not plan to work with Planned Parenthood.

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

Calvary Chapel's campaign also involves raising $150,000 for Choices Chattanooga, a local pregnancy resource center, to start an abortion reversal program.

The treatment targets women seeking to use a two-dose pill to end a pregnancy. The first pill loosens the fetus's attachment in the women's uterus. The second pill, taken several days later, helps the uterus push out the fetus and end the pregnancy. Nearly 40% of abortions nationwide are done using medication, according to a 2018 report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The abortion reversal treatment involves injections or pills of the hormone progesterone taken between the first and second abortion pill. The treatment has the support of organizations such as Focus on the Family and the American Pregnancy Association.

However, there is little scientific research on the effectiveness of the treatment or the possible harm to women who undergo an abortion reversal.

Dr. Daniel Grossman, professor of obstetrics and director of Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health at the University of California, San Francisco, said the studies held up by supporters of the treatment do not involve an ethical review board, have missing data and use inconsistent methodologies.

"The bottom line is that we don't have any rigorous scientific evidence that the treatment is effective, and we have some indication that there may be safety concerns," Grossman said. "In terms of the effectiveness, there has not been a rigorously performed clinical study of this treatment. The proponents of the treatment have published some case studies of patients who have undergone this treatment, but there are lots of problems with the data that they've published."

In 2019, researchers with the University of California, Davis, sought to study the effects of the drugs on 40 women but the study was shut down months later over safety concerns. Some women were taken to the hospital because of vaginal bleeding.

Organizations such as the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists do not support the treatment. ACOG claims supporting reversal procedures is based on "unproven, unethical research" since little is known about the effectiveness or safety of the treatment.

Grossman said he would be very concerned about offering this abortion reversal treatment to women.

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

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