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Protecting the Vulnerable

Crisis pregnancy centers need more than another grant program; they need the full protection of the law.

The National Museum Of African American Music Grand Opening
Tennessee Governor Bill Lee. (Photo by Jason Kempin/Getty Images)

Tennessee’s Governor Bill Lee wants to establish the state as a pro-life hub post-Roe. During his State of the State address earlier this week, he announced plans to create a $100 million grant program to support crisis pregnancy centers, saying the state has a “moral obligation” to support families. 

Lee is absolutely right. While I can think of more direct ways to use state funding to support families—improving child tax credits for married parents, for instance, to incentivize not just having a child but also raising him in a complete family—helping women who are considering an abortion is always a good idea. 

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Unfortunately, in the wake of violent attacks at pro-life pregnancy centers around the country, money is not the primary thing most pregnancy centers need. Since Politico leaked the draft of the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision on May 2 of last year, pregnancy centers have become the subject of some eighty violent attacks, ranging from threats to vandalism to arson. The Department of Justice has indicted a total of two suspects. 

This would be concerning on its face if it were the only factor at play. It is not. In addition to ignoring the violence against pro-life pregnancy centers, the Department of Justice and FBI have actively pursued pro-life individuals, charging them with violating the Clinton-era Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act. The 1994 law was enacted for the implicit purpose of keeping pro-life activists from persuading women not to enter abortion clinics, though the verbiage as written has clear implications for pro-abortion activists as well. Since its enactment, the FACE Act has been used almost exclusively to prosecute pro-life individuals, with last month’s indictments of two suspected pregnancy center arsonists the notable and only exception. 

In the wake of Roe’s overturn last summer, the DOJ announced a task force to more aggressively prosecute protestors at “reproductive health” facilities—as though the real threats were the single instance of violence at a California Planned Parenthood, or Mark Houck, the Catholic father of seven children who defended his child from a protester outside of an abortion clinic, and not the anarchists attacking pregnancy centers and smashing up churches on a weekly basis. 

Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta outlined the purpose of the task force in a press release at the time: 

The Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision is a devastating blow to reproductive freedom in the United States. The Court abandoned 50 years of precedent and took away the constitutional right to abortion, preventing women all over the country from being able to make critical decisions about our bodies, our health, and our futures. The Justice Department is committed to protecting access to reproductive services.

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The DOJ also noted it was working with “external stakeholders,” including “reproductive services providers” and “advocates.” 

One case the DOJ task force took up was in Tennessee. On October 5, the department announced it was bringing FACE Act charges against 11 defendants, including an eighty-seven-year-old woman, for blockading an abortion facility in Mount Juliet, Tennessee. Seven of the defendants were charged with engaging in a civil rights conspiracy. The incident in question had occurred in March 2021, nineteen months prior to the indictment and sixteen months prior to the formation of the task force. 

Gov. Lee never commented on the indictments. He sent out a tweet in June, when a Nashville pregnancy center where he is a board member was hit with a Molotov cocktail, calling it “terrorism” and saying it should be “prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law,” but hasn’t said a word about the incident or others like it since. No investigative task force has been formed at the local or state level. No public pressure has been put on law enforcement to catch those who attempted arson at the Nashville clinic. Lee did not even hint at the violence when he announced the proposed grants to support the very same pregnancy centers that have been targeted. Could anything have been more germane?

As a politician who has made the issue of protecting the unborn central to his brand and legacy, Lee’s relative quiet is noteworthy. But he isn’t the only governor to downplay the problem. In fact, Florida’s Ron DeSantis might be the only red state leader who has weighed in on the violence at all. 

Meanwhile, New York’s Kathy Hochul called loudly and repeatedly for the prosecution of pro-life individuals after a few reportedly harassed employees at a Planned Parenthood facility in her state—a far cry from the multiple arson attacks the pro-life side has seen. Hochul even demanded Meta and Mark Zuckerberg suppress pro-life viewpoints on Facebook. Like Lee, Hochul has made the abortion debate central to her governorship, but unlike Lee, she hasn’t shied away from championing her cause. 

Sending money and supplies to pro-life pregnancy centers and women in need is a good move on Lee’s part, one other red state governors should note. But what these pregnancy centers really need in a post-Roe world is not just another grant program. What they need are politicians who defend them from the corrupt and biased legal system that turns a blind eye to their plight. 

While money can repair damaged pregnancy centers, it cannot protect them from further attacks, and it cannot provide justice for the atrocities already committed. If Gov. Lee truly believes in the state’s moral obligation to the family, he should champion the cause of those doing vital work to support it.