Planned Parenthood, the nation's largest abortion provider, has not had a staff member in Chattanooga in 16 years but hopes to change that in the near future.
Not if we can help it, say pro-life advocates, who drew nearly 100 people to a meeting at the Basilica of Sts. Peter and Paul last week.
Planned Parenthood of Tennessee and North Mississippi recently posted a job for a community organizer in Chattanooga and would like to add a health educator, its spokeswoman says.
The organization currently has four clinics in Tennessee, two in Memphis and one each in Nashville and Knoxville.
Chattanooga Women's Clinic, which had provided abortions for nearly 20 years, closed in April 1993. That left the city at the time as the largest in the country with no abortion clinic.
The closing of the clinic is a testament to a dedicated group of people who uncovered abuses there, protested at its Vance Road doors, filed lawsuits and ultimately bought the $300,000 building from the clinic owner, who was in bankruptcy.
"We raised $40,000 that night; in 12 hours we had $60,000; and in three days we had nearly a quarter million," Charles Wysong, a local leader in pro-life activities at the time, told the American Family Association Journal in 2013. "A week later, we bought the building for $294,000 and kicked the abortion clinic out."
The former Chattanooga Women's Clinic now houses the National Memorial to the Unborn and for many years — in the irony of ironies — housed AAA Women's Services, which provided alternatives to abortion.
The closing of the clinic, though no one knew it at the time, paralleled the early years of a dramatic drop in the number of abortions across the country.
The number of U.S. abortions peaked at 1.6 million in 1990 but is now less than half that amount. Depending on the source sought, that drop is due to the wider availability of contraceptive products, state abortion restrictions, the work of pro-life organizations in changing hearts, and fewer women becoming pregnant.
In Tennessee, according to the state Department of Health, the number of abortions in 2018 — the most recent year for which records are available — increased .7%, the first rise in a decade. But the abortion rate fell 0.2%.
In 1993, the year the Chattanooga clinic closed, the country's two political parties may have been as close as they ever would be on the subject of abortion. Republicans opposed most abortions, while Democrats — as voiced by new President Bill Clinton — said abortions should be "safe, legal and rare."
Hillary Clinton used the term as late as her 2008 try for the Democratic nomination, but by her 2016 campaign she had dropped it.
In the 28 years since the clinic closed, Republicans across the U.S. have sought additional state restrictions on abortions, while many elected Democrats have shifted to a push for unfettered access to abortions, up to and including born-alive abortions (often called infanticide).
This is the milieu into which Planned Parenthood seeks to reassert itself. With a supportive Democratic president and slim Democratic majorities in Congress, the organization may have felt opponents would be too dis-spirited by the defeat of President Donald Trump, who was surprisingly one of the most pro-life chief executives in history, to counter it.
But they would have been wrong.
Chattanooga Right to Life scheduled the meeting at the Catholic church last week and had to move it from the church's Dominic Building to its main worship space because of the size of the crowd.
"With this kind of deadly agenda [of abortions], it is extremely worrisome to learn that they are looking to expand their influence in our city," Candy Clepper, the group's president, told the Times Free Press in an email last week. "The people of Chattanooga are not interested in Planned Parenthood's extreme agenda expanding into our community."
At least four groups are interested in collaborating to oppose the organization's re-launch here, according to Civilis, the weekly online publication of local conservative think tank Hamilton Flourishing.
First on the agenda, according to Civilis, is a petition of "unwelcome" — with a hoped-for 5,000 signatures — to be presented to the new city administration, which will take office in April after a runoff between businessman Tim Kelly and former River City CEO Kim White.
It might, in fact, be interesting to see — in any remaining forum between the two — which mayoral candidate, or neither, or both, would welcome Planned Parenthood's return to the city.
We believe the sentiment of the majority of the community is that the group not return, but time will tell how emboldened the organization is and how determined the pro-life gang of old — and new — is to oppose them.