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Pro-lifers on trial in Tennessee

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WORLD Radio - Pro-lifers on trial in Tennessee

Organizers of a sit-in at an abortion business face criminal charges in a trial starting this week


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MARY REICHARD, HOST: Coming up next on The World and Everything in It: on trial for pro-life activism.

Last year, a jury in Washington found nine pro-lifers guilty on charges stemming from protests in front of an abortion business.

They’re currently in custody as they await sentencing that could result in more than a decade in prison.

NICK EICHER, HOST: Today, jury selection begins in the trial of six pro-lifers facing the possibility of spending the next 11 years in prison.

Their crime? Taking part in a sit-in almost three years ago at a Nashville-area abortion business.

WORLD reporter Leah Savas has the story.

LEAH SAVAS: Kyle Bradshaw remembers the day FBI agents arrested his father-in-law, Paul Vaughn.

BRADSHAW: So that arrest actually happened on the anniversary of our wedding. So we had plans for that day, I was at work like normal, and then got a text from my wife asking me to come home. So I didn't really know what was going on.

Paul’s wife and some of his eleven children were getting ready for school when the agents showed up with guns drawn. Audio here from a video Paul’s wife Bethany took on her cellphone.

FBI: But if you’re not going to let me, I’ll just—

BETHANY VAUGHN: No, I want to know why you were banging on my door with a gun!

Bradshaw didn’t find out what happened until he got home. His mother-in-law, Bethany, and some of her kids stayed at the Bradshaws’ house that day as they waited for news about Paul.

BRADSHAW: That was a very traumatic experience, to say the least, for for my wife and her siblings and Paul's wife—just living with the unknown for a number of hours that day. Because they had no idea where where Dad was.

Before Paul came home later that day, the family found out that he was one of several pro-lifers charged with violating the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act, or FACE, punishable by up to one year in prison for a first offense. He also faced a charge for conspiracy against the right to obtain reproductive health services, punishable by up to a decade. All because of his part in a March 2021 sit-in at the Carafem Health Center—an abortion facility in Mount Juliet, Tennessee.

AUDIO FROM LIVESTREAM: [Singing]

OFFICER: We need you to carry it outside, guys, you’re gonna block the hallways. We need more officers up here.

That’s audio from a 2-hour Facebook livestream of the event, documenting what the pro-lifers call a “rescue.” It started a little before 8 in the morning. A couple dozen pro-lifers crowded in a hallway in front of a medical suite, some sitting or standing directly in front of the doors. When police arrived, the group sang over instructions to leave…and the pro-lifers stood in the way of people trying to enter.

OFFICER: Hey guys, we're gonna need you guys to disperse outside okay? This is your last warning. I need everybody to step outside. Go to the sidewalk…

For about two hours after police made that announcement, the pro-lifers alternated between praying, singing, reading Scripture, and discussing next steps in the demonstration.

CHESTER GALLAGHER: …Naked and you clothed me. I was sick and you visited me. I was in prison—come on, this should encourage you today, hallelujah—I was in prison…

Their goal was to keep staff and patients out so abortions couldn’t happen. Around 10 a.m., police started taking names. They arrested 9 adults, according to local news reports.

For many of the families facing these charges, pro-life activism like this is just a part of life. Paul Vaughn practically proposed to his wife while in jail for a similar rescue in the 90s. Ruth Green, the wife of another defendant facing a possible 11 years, said her husband, Dennis, has also been a part of activities like this for decades.

RUTH GREEN: Mostly him. Sometimes me too, but mostly him, and he would take some of our children with him. So they’ve been exposed to pro-life work all these years.

That day in Tennessee, some of their children were in the hallway with Dennis. Meanwhile, Ruth was outside the building, handing out tracts and holding signs.

GREEN: When once we were told that he was being charged with FACE, that's when I was like, Oh, wow, this is bigger than we initially thought it was going to be.

The family had known about the FACE Act before. Dennis thought there was a small possibility of facing a civil charge and paying a fine under that law. But the conspiracy charge with the possible 10-year prison sentence came out of the blue to the pro-lifers. Until 2022, they had never heard of charges like that for nonviolent sit-ins. One of the defendants in the Tennessee case pled guilty in exchange for reduced charges.

For Ruth, who is in her mid-50s, the idea of losing her husband for a decade is troubling. Together, they have 13 children… with five still at home. She’s especially worried about how not having Dennis at home would affect their youngest son.

GREEN: Our youngest son, Benjamin, he's 10. He has Down syndrome. And they're very, very close. They're, they're just best pals…. And Benjamin would not understand the ramifications of the situation, he wouldn't understand why dad is not around. Where's dad? When's he coming home?

But Ruth said she’s trusting that God will bring good out of the situation, even if there’s a guilty verdict.

GREEN: The Father told us that those who love Him will be persecuted and suffer for righteousness sake. So that kind of keeps me going.

Paul Vaughn’s son-in-law Kyle Bradshaw hasn’t participated in a rescue himself… and he said he doesn’t know how he feels about them as a tactic. But he’s seen the heart of love for unborn children that motivates the defendants and their families. He’s seen how they’re trusting the Lord with the outcome of this case.

KYLE BRADSHAW: We should never go out and seek troubles and persecution. But if that comes as a result of living faithful lives, then glory be to God. The Lord uses these situations to grow us and shape us in ways that we could never be sanctified without these trials.

Reporting for WORLD, I’m Leah Savas.


WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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