Tennessee Is Subverting Women’s Health

October 3, 2022 K.O. Herston 5 Comments

This op-ed by Jennifer Rubin in The Washington Post should be of interest to all Tennesseans.

Tennessee Abortion Ban Wreaks Havoc with Women’s Medical Care

If you click on the website for the Memphis Choices Center for Reproductive Health, a message pops up: “Starting August 25th, CHOICES can no longer provide abortion services in Memphis due to a new law banning abortions entirely in Tennessee. A new CHOICES clinic is opening in Carbondale, Illinois in mid-September.”

Thanks to the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision overturning Roe v. Wade, an almost-total ban on abortion is now law in Tennessee. There is no exception for rape or incest. Protecting the mother’s health might not be a good enough reason, either. “While it allows abortion treatments in cases where a woman’s life is in danger, it still requires physicians to defend themselves in court, putting their licenses on the line,” the Knoxville NBC News affiliate reports. As for the health of the mother, the physician will have the burden of proof to show “serious and permanent bodily injury” would occur if the abortion were not performed.

Moreover, the law discriminates against those with mental health issues. ABC News reports, “Under the ban, abortions cannot be authorized based on a ‘claim or diagnosis’ relating to mental health, including claims that the woman would ‘engage in conduct that would result in her death or substantial and irreversible impairment of a major bodily function,’ according to the law.” A woman whose pregnancy might trigger a relapse of schizophrenia, panic attacks or life-threatening depression would be denied abortion care.

That’s the bleak reality now facing women in Tennessee and other states with draconian bans. Memphis Choices President and CEO Jennifer Pepper tells me in a phone interview, “We performed our last abortion Wednesday afternoon” — Aug. 24. The clinic remains open to offer other reproductive care, but if women need an abortion, clinic employees will direct them to websites that provide information about where they can still find access to care and seek financial support for travel, lodging and other expenses that might be necessary.

“There are no good answers,” Pepper says. As more state bans go into effect, the options, especially for women in the South, become more limited. Abortions up to 15 weeks are still legal in Florida. Abortions are still legal in North Carolina up to 20 weeks. For others, Carbondale or other locations in southern Illinois may be closest. “People will go where they can get to,” Pepper says. If they have family and friends, it might make more sense for them to travel greater distances, even as far as California.

In Tennessee, some clinics have closed altogether, including one in Knoxville. The result in Tennessee and other states with bans might be an acute shortage of reproductive care if physicians decide to relocate.

Moreover, new physicians might not want to practice in a place where health care is criminalized and the threat of prosecution hangs over their head. “Tennessee will have an uphill climb when it comes to recruitment,” Pepper predicts. She observes that not only in the health-care field but also in other industries, Tennessee businesses might find it difficult to recruit talent they need when the state criminalizes some health care. “It makes me sad,” she says. “Tennessee is a great state. Memphis is a great city.”

Nevertheless, with a right-wing governor and heavily GOP-dominated legislature (enjoying the benefit of job security through gerrymandering), Tennessee’s legal landscape won’t change anytime soon.

In Carbondale, Pepper is wading through the logistics of setting up a new facility, including remodeling, and hiring and training staff. The facility might not open until the end of September. Hers won’t be the only clinic there.

The Post reports that a “high-profile abortion provider,” Alan Braid, “is opening new clinics in Illinois and New Mexico and shuttering his two clinics in Oklahoma and Texas, where abortion has been banned in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade.” One of Braid’s new clinics is in Carbondale, “24 miles from Illinois’ southern border, within striking distance of the vast abortion deserts spreading throughout the Southeast and Midwest.”

Pepper says she “wouldn’t be surprised” to see more clinics open there.

Federal and state lawsuits continue to challenge various aspects of state abortion claims. However, unless and until they get relief from courts or legislatures, millions of women face daunting hurdles to obtaining basic health care. As for the legislators and activists who force women to remain pregnant and give birth against their will: They will bear responsibility for the lives lost and women harmed.

Source: Tennessee Abortion Ban Wreaks Havoc with Women’s Medical Care (The Washington Post, August 31, 2022).

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Tennessee Is Subverting Women’s Health was last modified: October 4th, 2022 by K.O. Herston

5 People reacted on this

  1. Abortion isn’t health care. Abortion is discriminatory against the pre-born. If Planned Parenthood were anything other than an abortion mill, it wouldn’t be closing. Abortion is destructive to both physical and mental health.

  2. An exception for rape and incest should be codified. The “mental health” exception would only incentivize sympathetic mental health providers to issue bogus diagnoses to those seeking an abortion. The mental health profession is too nebulous and too subjective to allow an exception as described.

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