Sidewalk counselors outside of an abortion facility in Bristol, Tennessee have become the targets of aggressive behavior by pro-abortion advocates, which is both physical and profane.
The Skeen family, whose matriarch, Denise, was once convicted of handling the money in the murder-for-hire of her then-boyfriend’s wife, and who is now an outspoken advocate for abortion, are regular “deathscorts” — a term often used to describe those who block expecting mothers from those attempting to bring a message of life and hope to women seeking to abort their babies — outside of the Bristol facility. The family affair includes her husband James and their daughters Rowan and Alethea.
The escalating activity outside of the “Bristol Regional Women’s Center” is depicted in several YouTube videos that especially show Alethea Skeen seeking to drown out the speech of sidewalk counselor Erika Schanzenbach. Skeen works at the costume outlet Twin Roses Designs, a costume design shop owned by designer Andrea Wakely, when not with her family at the abortion facility.
In one video, Skeen pushes a large speaker blaring music on a handcart. In another, she approaches Schanzenbach with a megaphone and begins singing “Baby Shark” and repeating “stop speaking to me” dozens of times in order to blurt out any speech. In an additional video, Skeen is physically leaning against Schanzenbach’s sign to cover an image of an aborted baby.
At times, Skeen uses profanity or vulgarity.
“Call the cops,” she states in one video. “I’m not stepping away. There’s no law about personal privacy, personal space. There’s no such thing. I can stand as close to you as I want. … If you don’t want me standing this close to you, stop harassing patients.”
“I don’t give a [expletive] about your opinion of me,” Skeen remarks in another after Schanzenbach opines that her behavior is “disgusting.”
“It’s God’s opinion that you should worry about,” Schanzenbach replies.
“Honey, that’s your God’s opinion,” Skeen states.
“It’s the God of the universe,” Schanzenbach responds.
“No, it’s not,” Skeen argues. “That’s nice fantasy. That’s like Harry Potter.”
She later tells her father, “This is completely working at keeping her completely focused on me and not on patients at all.” He replies, “God’s plan is working out good.”
Another video from June shows both Denise and Alethea Skeen drowning out a prayer time with several sidewalk counselors, as they loudly chant “Matthew 6:6,” asserting that it is blasphemy for Christians to pray on the street corner together.
Schanzenbach told Christian News Network that the aggression has escalated over time as the Skeens and others are using various tactics in an attempt to force her to leave.
“At first … they didn’t want to be anywhere near us and they didn’t want us to talk to them, but progressively over the months they’ve gotten more and more in our faces,” she stated. “They’ve found all kinds of ways to make noise with loudspeakers and bullhorns and just yelling to drown us out if we’re trying to call out to a patient entering the clinic.”
Schanzenbach said that the practice of the six to eight escorts at the abortion facility has become to hold signs and banners that will block the signs and banners of those standing for life and to be inventive in drowning out any type of appeal to abortion-minded mothers.
“Their language is filthy,” she added. “They try and research us online and come up with whatever they can come up with to let us know that they know personal information about us or know who we are or where we live. … If I want to not have them right in my face, I have to walk several blocks to my car and drive away. … So, they’re very actively trying to intimidate and harass us so that we don’t come there at all.”
Schanzenbach, who is joined at times by up to a dozen others, says that abortion rights supporters will approach the pro-life college students and “will gather around these young folks and they will describe their favorite sex acts and masturbation techniques that they love — all very much in detail — and they will accuse them of incest.”
While Schanzenbach and others have called the police on occasion, she said that they have declined to become involved and take a passive approach. Skeen also noted the inaction of the police in one video, stating, “Call the cops. You know what they’ll do? Nothing.”
Schanzenbach explained that she stands across the street from the abortion facility driveway on a sidewalk adjacent to a gas station, but that Skeen and others follow her there and use the various tactics to intimidate her to leave, stating, “You need to go home.”
“We want to bring the gospel there. We want to bring hope and the message of the gospel, which means that we also need to bring the message of God’s judgment on that sin,” Schanzenbach told Christian News Network. “We believe that God’s word tells us that we are to rescue those who are being taken away to death … We’re supposed to speak up for them. … That’s why we’re there. But right now, our message is being completely drowned out.”
The family matriarch, Denise Skeen (formerly Denise Lambert), has a criminal past after getting involved at the time with a married man by the name of Larry Gene Heath. Denise’s then-boyfriend, Heath, who was twice her senior, hired a hit-man to murder his wife Rebecca who was 9 months pregnant with her second child — a boy Rebecca named Hayden Hodnett.
Court records reflect that Larry confessed his plan on several occasions to Denise, including who was going to murder his wife and when. On August 31, 1981, while Denise babysat Larry and Rebecca’s 2-year-old son, Hamilton, the act of murder was carried out, resulting in the deaths of both Rebecca and Hayden. Denise would later then hand-deliver nearly $2,000 in cash to the hit-man after the expecting mother was shot in the face with a .32 caliber pistol. Baby Hayden also died since Rebecca’s body wasn’t found until 3 hours after the murder.
According to Justia Owens v. State:1986, Denise entered a guilty plea to conspiracy to commit murder, and was subsequently sentenced to ten years in prison in two different states that was ordered to run concurrently, but only served a total of 33 months. Denise’s ex-boyfriend was sentenced to death by electrocution, apparently becoming a born again Christian and making no final attempt to appeal his death sentence.
Calls made to the Bristol Police Department for comment were not returned by press time, nor was an email to Andrea Wakely of Twin Roses Design.