CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. —More than 35,000 unborn children died at the Chattanooga Women's Clinic before prolifers bought the building, putting the city's abortionists out of business.

“Chattanooga is now one of the largest cities in the United States without an abortion clinic. To God be the glory,” says Rita Sigler, director of the National Memorial for the Unborn that now occupies the same building.

In 1993, the clinic's landlord had ended up in bankruptcy court. In a bidding war to buy his building, members of the Pro-Life Majority Coalition of Chattanooga offered more than the director of the abortion clinic did.

“Clinic officials promised at the time they would reopen at a new location in just weeks,” says Sigler. “That was eight years ago, and we still don't have an abortion clinic in town.”

The National Memorial was completed early in 1996 and it has already inspired the construction of five more regional memorials for unborn children, and hundreds of others may be erected in the next decade.

The regional memorials can be visited in Berlin, Md., Ellensburg, Wash., Racine, Wis., and Boulder, Colo. Another wall is under construction in Portland, Ore. The Boulder and Racine walls were constructed with private donations raised by Catholic parishes, while the other three walls were built with donations raised by crisis pregnancy centers.

Not everyone is moved by the idea of memorials for unborn children, however. Some abortion advocates say such memorials unfairly promote an idea that all life is sacred and all children should be born.

“While I am not in support of partial-birth abortion or abortion as a method of birth control, I believe that some children would have been better off to have never been conceived or born,” says Nicole Huntley, who has publicly criticized Boulder's wall. “Accidents do happen and one cannot force a mother to love her unplanned child. Life can be hell, especially when you're at the mercy of an uncaring or even abusive parent.“But Sigler is undeterred by such criticism. “Our vision is to perpetuate this trend,” she says. “We want memorials in every city throughout the country. Like the Vietnam Memorial Wall, there will be one large national wall and smaller local and regional walls in towns and cities everywhere.”

In Boulder, the wall was inspired by events that occurred after a local mortuary's young staff had a rude awakening to the realities of abortion.

The city is home to the Boulder Abortion Clinic, which advertises that it “specializes in late abortions.” Clinic director Dr. Warren Hern has told the press that he works in Boulder because “it's the most pro-choice city in America.”

Chuck Myers, a Seventh Day Adventist, was the director of Howe Mortuary near Boulder when the phone rang one afternoon in 1997.

It was an employee of the Boulder Abortion Clinic wanting to contract with the mortuary to dispose of “products of conception” from the clinic.

The clinic needed to hire a mortuary with cremation facilities because of a new state law prohibiting garbage haulers from transporting medical waste that consisted of recognizable human remains. The law also prevents recognizable abortion remains from being dumped in landfills.

When the first box arrived at the mortuary, employees opened it to begin their work. Several were sickened and complained to Myers.

“They (the clinic) told us it was ‘tissue,’ but it wasn't,” says Myers, who describes himself as pro-choice. “I won't get specific, but what we saw was very disturbing to our staff. It was just very hard.”

Myers told the employees he'd handle all future shipments from the clinic himself.

Then he called Father Andrew Kemberling, a Benedictine priest and, at the time, director of Boulder's Sacred Heart of Mary parish cemetery.

“I'm not Catholic, but it seemed like I had to do something for these children,” Myers said. “As a mortuary director, I had worked with Father Andrew on funerals and he seemed to me like someone who would probably have some good advice.”

For the next two years, a monthly box of aborted babies arrived at the mortuary. Father Andrew and his music director showed up each time and performed a funeral.

After each cremation, the ashes were taken back to the parish cemetery for burial.

More than 1,000 aborted babies were entombed at the cemetery before a new director took over at the Howe Mortuary and discontinued the arrangement.

“They're not children. They're products of conception,” says a Howe Mortuary employee today, explaining why the funerals were discontinued.

After word got out about the babies in the cemetery, a committee formed at the parish and they decided to memorialize the plot. Today a large granite wall and a statue of the risen Christ adorn the grave. For a small fee, parents, grandparents or anyone else who knows of an aborted child can place a bronze plaque on the wall. A duplicate plaque is then placed on the national wall in Chattanooga. The four other regional walls have identical arrangements with the national wall.

Each plaque contains three lines of text. Some babies have first and last names, others just first names, and some simply say “Baby,” or “Baby Jones.” The second line is usually the date of the death, and the third can say anything.

Some examples, from the national wall: “We loved you too late”; “I'll hold you in Heaven”; “Mom longs to hold you”; “So many tears ago”; “Someday ... Love, Grandma”; “No less real — no less loved”; and “A part of me died too.”

Rita Sigler says that the trend to build memorials for the unborn seems to be picking up.

She expects many more to be set up in next few years. “Since January of 1999, I have responded to about 300 requests for our packets that give detailed instructions on how to start a memorial wall,” she reports.

Wayne Laugesen writes from Boulder, Colorado.