The suspension of abortions at Nashville's Planned Parenthood, the city's only remaining clinic, has advocates raising money to help patients travel out of town and offset the cost of a procedure that can cost more than $1,000. They say plans for an abortion fund were already in the works as access in Tennessee has dwindled.
"The reality is that before this happened, most women in Tennessee seeking abortions had to drive over 100 miles because we're just lacking access in this state," says Anna Carella, co-director of Healthy and Free Tennessee.
The suspension of abortions at Planned Parenthood's clinic in Nashville, first reported by The Tennessean, followed the closure of the Nashville Women's Center in August.
The number of clinics statewide has dropped by more than half in recent decades. As access has restricted, abortion numbers in Tennessee have dropped correspondingly, from 14,245 in 2008 to 9,732 in 2016.
"We are preparing for an even more hostile political climate, given the new composition of the Supreme Court and the possibility of more restrictions in this state," Carella says.
An informal Facebook group started raising money immediately after this week's announcement of suspending abortions in Nashville. Healthy and Free Tennessee plans to be part of the National Network of Abortion Funds, where Kentucky also has a statewide fund.
Carella says the ever-increasing scrutiny on abortion providers could inspire contributors.
"In this climate, where people feel that their values are under attack, they may be even more willing to give to causes like this because they see such an urgent need," she says.
According to the most recent state figures, nearly 2,000 abortions a year are performed in Davidson County. And now the nearest abortion clinic is in Knoxville, which has been preparing for a surge in demand. But that Planned Parenthood clinic doesn't conduct the surgical abortions needed after 12 weeks of pregnancy. Memphis would be the closest for that.
But it could be more cost-effective to go out of state since Tennessee's new 48-hour waiting period could require two trips to get an abortion. Beyond cash to pay for travel expenses, the fund will also need volunteers to staff a phone line and keep the books. And Carella says the fund would remain in place to help women who feel trapped in unwanted pregnancies, even if the Nashville clinic reopens.
Planned Parenthood of Tennessee and North Mississippi says it plans to restart abortion services in Nashville early next year, blaming staff turnover for the down time.
"We are currently taking the next several weeks to fully orient and train new team members," CEO Ashley Coffield says in a statement. This year, Planned Parenthood in Middle and East Tennessee consolidated with the Greater Memphis office but pledged to maintain four centers, including one in Nashville and one in Knoxville.
Though Planned Parenthood's suspension in Nashville is temporary, abortion opponents called it a "Christmas miracle" and reported a spike in calls to Tennessee Right to Life.