Abortion rights group organizes in TN

A national abortion-rights group is organizing in Tennessee and making U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn a special target in the process, reports Michael Collins.

NARAL Pro-Choice America has dispatched a group of activists to Tennessee to help organize a network of supporters who will push to expand access to reproductive rights and abortion services in the state. The network also could be tapped to work to defeat political candidates who oppose abortion.

The program, called Tennessee Total Access, could eventually expand to other red states, said James Owens, NARAL’s states communications director.

“This is a very targeted effort to go into places like Tennessee that have not traditionally been hotbeds of pro-choice sentiment,” Owens said.

The activists have been on the ground in Tennessee since June. They have been going door to door to sign up new NARAL members, buying ads and billboards to spread the abortion-rights message and attending concerts, fairs, festivals and other cultural events to reach other people who favor reproductive rights.

Though the campaign is statewide, most of its resources are focused on Nashville, Memphis, Knoxville, Chattanooga, Clarksville and Murfreesboro.

…Blackburn, the Brentwood Republican targeted by NARAL in Tennessee, is one of the most outspoken abortion opponents in Congress and chairwoman of a special House panel investigating the practices of abortion providers. The 14-member panel was formed after undercover videos surfaced showing Planned Parenthood officials discussing the sale of tissues and organs from aborted fetuses. A number of state investigations have cleared Planned Parenthood of any wrongdoing.

Critics accuse Blackburn of using the panel to smear Planned Parenthood and to unfairly target researchers, medical supply companies and others involved in fetal tissue research.

NARAL is paying for anti-Blackburn digital ads and for a traveling billboard that says she doesn’t share the priorities of Tennessee families. The plan is to eventually park the billboard outside her office, Owens said.

Blackburn is heavily favored to win an eighth term in November. But Owens said her anti-abortion work is not just a matter of interest to Tennessee voters.

“It’s an issue of whether or not one anti-choice ideology can rightfully be imposed on the entire country,” he said. “She has made a very conscientious effort somewhere along the line not only to push this agenda that’s out of the mainstream, but to be the leader on it. We are holding her accountable and lifting her actions up so she can’t hide them.”

Blackburn branded the activists “anti-life extremists” but predicted they will find Tennesseans “some of the most welcoming, warm and friendly people on the face of the earth.”

“They will soon learn that these Tennesseans are individuals who value life and work to protect life at all stages,” she said.

As for NARAL’s opposition to the special panel’s investigation, “I would hope they will change their position and work with me to protect expectant mothers and unborn babies,” she said.