Tennessee sidewalk counselor wins right to protection from pro-abortion harassment

A dedicated pro-life prayer warrior in Tennessee was the target of blatant attacks from abortion facility escorts but has won a court victory protecting her from their unrelenting harassment.

Pro-life advocate and sidewalk counselor Erika Schanzenbach had been praying regularly at a Bristol, Tenn., abortion center with a small group. 

After repeated verbal abuse from the abortion center’s escorts, along with their stalking her, ripping up her pro-life materials and more, she eventually brought a case seeking protection orders.

Thomas More Society attorneys are representing Schanzenbach in her lawsuits seeking protection. 

The legal non-profit won an important victory on appeal last month when a Tennessee Court of Appeals in a unanimous decision vacated the ruling of a Tennessee trial court that had denied Schanzenbach the protection she is entitled to by law.

The Court of Appeals found that the trial court failed to state sufficient findings of fact or sufficient legal conclusions to support its 2020 ruling against Schanzenbach, Thomas More Society said in a statement. The appeals court thus vacated the trial court’s rulings and remanded them for further proceedings in that court.

“This is a good interim victory for Ms. Schanzenbach, a true hero on the front lines of peacefully and prayerfully ending abortion in this country,” Thomas More Society Counsel Michael McHale said. 

“It is rare for an appellate court to disturb a lower court’s denial of a protection order,” McHale said, “but here the Court of Appeals plainly saw that the trial court needed to better analyze the facts and law before it could deny protection to Ms. Schanzenbach. Her case involves the most egregious harassment we’ve seen of a pro-lifer anywhere in the country.” 

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McHale is joined as counsel in the case by Thomas More Society Senior Counsel Martin Cannon, who is a national expert on pro-life sidewalk advocacy legal matters, and also local counsel Andrew Fox.

McHale described the legal nature of the shameless infractions foisted upon his pro-life client by the abortion escorts. 

  Erika Schanzenbach

“Ms. Schanzenbach has been terrorized while exercising her freedom to peacefully express her opinion,” McHale said. 

“She has been stalked, threatened, and frightened, while attempting to share life-affirming alternatives with abortion-minded women – something that she is fully within her constitutional rights to do,” he said. “The appellate court has remanded Ms. Schanzenbach’s lawsuit back to the Chancery Court to get it right. We expect it to do so, by protecting her to the full extent of the law.”

Tweet This: A pro-life advocate terrorized by pro-abortion escorts for exercising her freedom to peacefully express her opinion has won a court victory

The Sullivan County Chancery Court denied the requested protection after a full-day trial in August 2020, despite the unrebutted video evidence. The harassment included the abortion escorts following Schanzenbach back to her car, parked nearly a football field away. 

Schanzenbach has been harassed, abused, and stalked has by Denise Skeen, along with Skeen’s adult daughters, Alethea and Rowan. Each is named as a respondent in petitions for court orders of protection. Also named is Cheryl Hanzlik, who on multiple occasions has pointed a bullhorn blaring loud police siren sounds directly into Schazenbach’s face, at the risk of causing permanent hearing damage.

The Thomas More Society appealed to the Tennessee Court of Appeals, submitted eight briefs (divided over four cases), and presented consolidated oral arguments, which resulted in four separate unanimous opinions and judgments – one for each of the four radical pro-abortion stalkers from whom Schanzenbach is seeking protection. 

The Court of Appeals underscored the Thomas More Society’s argument that the Michigan Court of Appeals recently upheld a protection order under an identical Michigan statute in a reverse scenario where a pro-life advocate was accused of stalking an abortion worker in a public lot near a facility. 

The Tennessee Court of Appeals acknowledged that in the Michigan case, the life advocate “was no longer seeking to share his political viewpoint” but was instead “antagonizing an individual” who “repeatedly told respondent that he was scaring her and to get away from her.” Therefore, the behavior there had “moved from advocacy to threatening conduct” and “was not constitutionally protected.”

“The only difference between that case and Ms. Schanzenbach’s is that she’s pro-life, and the harassment and abuse she’s suffered is far, far worse, as we pointed out to the Tennessee Court of Appeals,” McHale said. “Obviously, no person should be treated less favorably under the law simply because they hold pro-life views. We believe the Court of Appeals recognized this problem in vacating the trial court’s decisions and sending the cases back for further proceedings.”

Tweet This: No person should be treated less favorably under the law simply because they hold pro-life views. 

  Erika Schanzenbach

The Bristol, Tenn., abortion facility where Schanzenbach was harassed again and again has since closed down, because Tennessee law now bans most abortions following the June 2022 Supreme Court decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization

Schanzenbach still prays and advocates for the lives of the unborn and their mothers at the abortion business owner’s new facility, just one mile away in Bristol, Va., where the abortion is legal. 

“When I go out to the clinic to minister I do pray while I am there, but that is not my primary purpose in going, “Schanzenbach told Pregnancy Help News. “My primary purpose is to obey the commands of God to, “Open your mouth for the mute” (Prov. 31:8-9) and to “Rescue those being taken away to death” (Prov. 24:10-12).”

“So, when I go, my primary purpose is to speak up and plead for the lives of the little ones slated for death on that day,” she said.

Thomas More Society pledged in its statement to continue to ensure that Schanzenbach is protected by law from the respondents’ abusive behavior.

Video documentation of some of the harassment endured by Schanzenbach is publicly available online at:

https://youtu.be/ZdsJjgQeliI, https://youtu.be/3ITnPmTPzgQ, and https://youtu.be/dfUO46WFPfU.

Read the rulings by Judge John W. McClarty, Judge Thomas R. Frierson, and Judge Kristi M. Davis, below:

·         Erika Jean Schanzenbach v. Denise Skeen

·         Erika Jean Schanzenbach v. Althea Skeen

·         Erika Jean Schanzenbach v. Rowan Skeen

·         Erika Jean Schanzenbach v. Cheryl Hanzlik

Read more about the Thomas More Society defense of Erika Schanzenbach HERE.


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