Tennessee Abortion Clinics Grapple With Uncertainty as SCOTUS Decision Looms

Corinne Rovetti worries about what will become of the Knoxville Center for Reproductive HealthIf the Supreme Court decides to overturn the constitutional right of abortion. The clinic where she has been working for 33 years could close.

“We’re unsure if we’ll be able to maintain services at all,” said Rovetti, who is the co-director and a nurse practitioner at KCRH, which provides medication abortions and abortion procedures, as well as gynecological and family planning services. The center provides abortion services to between 1,300 and 1,400 patients each year, which includes people from Kentucky, Georgia, Virginia, and other states.

The independent clinic — which opened in 1975, two years after the Supreme Court’s historic Roe v. Wade decision — was one of the first to provide abortion services in Knoxville. KCRH is still located in Fort Sanders, between the old homes and the modern apartment blocks that house students at the University of Tennessee. It became the only clinic that provides abortions in the area after Knoxville’s Planned Parenthood facility was intentionally set on fireDecember 31,

“There’s just a lot of things unknown,” Rovetti said in an interview at KCRH. “We are exploring, and we’re waiting. It’s just hard to make many decisions at this point until we know where things stand.”

In the coming weeks, a decision by the Supreme Court in a case involving abortion is expected. The case is, Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, turns on the state of Mississippi’s effort to ban most abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy. Roe Guarantees abortion access until the fetus becomes viable (around 23 weeks). In May, Politico published Leaked draft opinions in the case showed that the justices would throw out the long-standing precedent. This would allow abortion regulation to be reintroduced to the individual states.

Tennessee is one of 13 states with a “trigger law” that would kick in if Roe abolition of abortions in most cases is rescinded. The trigger law The 30-day window prior to the prohibition being implemented is included. However, another measure could speed up the final outcome.

In 2020, Tennessee’s Republican governor, Bill Lee, signed A law that makes abortion illegal if embryonic or foetus cardiac activity is detected. This can occur as early as six weeks into the pregnancy. The vast majority of KCRH abortions (approximately 95%) occurred six weeks after a patient’s last menstrual period, according to data provided in court documents. A federal judge prevented the six-week ban being implemented shortly after it had been signed. However, that injunction could be lifted by the Supreme Court. Roe.

Rovetti stated that her clinic may have no choice but to stop offering abortions once a decision has been made. But much will depend on the final opinion’s wording.

KCRH staff members have begun to advise patients about the possibility of an abortion ban. Tennessee, like 26 other statesPeople seeking abortion in Tennessee must wait between their initial counseling appointment and the actual abortion. Tennessee requires women wait 48 hours.

“We have to say, ‘We really hope we can provide the service for you, but if we get a decision tomorrow, you still have another 24 hours before you can return and then we will not be able to see you,’” Rovetti said. “So there’s a lot of upheaval and a lot of unknown and a lot of despair.”

The Planned Parenthood Clinic is located a few miles to the east. It was renovating its facilities to offer abortion services when the arson occurred. The clinic provided only medication abortions during the first 11 weeks.

Planned Parenthood plans for rebuilding, but the doors might not reopen for 18 months. Ashley Coffield is the CEO of Planned Parenthood of Tennessee and North MississippiAccording to, the clinic is currently in design phase for construction.

The Planned Parenthood facility’s sign was recently vandalized with white paint, to block out the clinic’s name. “We’re replacing the sign,” said Coffield. “It’s a message to the community that we’re coming back.”

Planned Parenthood will open a mobile clinic in Knoxville by the end of the year.

Coffield stated that Planned Parenthood will provide support to patients if abortions in Tennessee are banned. Planned Parenthood will also assist patients with the logistics and costs involved in traveling to legal states and to provide follow-up care. People who experience severe bleeding after an abortion may be afraid to visit an emergency room, as they could be charged with breaking the law. However, in Tennessee, the doctors who perform abortions would be prosecuted.

Planned Parenthood will open a mobile clinic in Knoxville by the end of the year.

Coffield stated that Planned Parenthood would advise patients and help them with the logistics and costs involved in traveling to a legal state to have abortions. Some people may experience heavy bleeding following abortions. They might be afraid to visit the emergency room because they fear being charged with breaking the laws. However, in Tennessee, doctors who perform abortions will be prosecuted.

“We can tell our patients facts about legal services” elsewhere, said Coffield. She stated that clinic staffers are considering referring patients to North Carolina or Virginia, and possibly Florida.

However, not all doctors are confident that counseling patients for abortion outside the state is safe. Dr. Nikki Zite of Knoxville OB/GYN said that some Tennessee doctors are unsure about what they can do and say to pregnant women considering abortion, particularly those with a history of ovarian cancer. ectopic pregnancies Or who are having miscarriages.

“We feel that the ban and a lot of the anti-abortion legislation is written in vague terms that make it hard to treat patients,” said Zite. Tennessee’s trigger law says abortions may be conducted by doctors only to prevent a death or “to prevent serious risk of substantial and irreversible impairment of a major bodily function of the pregnant woman.”

“But exactly how much risk there needs to be is not clear,” Zite said. “Different physicians practicing at different institutions will have different interpretations of that law.”

Some Tennessee abortion-rights groups said that they’ve been anticipating this moment for years but that activity has ramped up since the draft opinion was leaked.

Max Carwile — a volunteer and one of the founders of Mountain Access Brigade, an East Tennessee group that operates a phone line that people can call or text to get abortion support and financial assistance — said her group’s main focus now is fundraising.

Once the trigger law goes into effect, Carwile said, “getting abortion care will be monumentally more expensive, since people will have to travel to another state.”

Other abortion-rights supporters are looking into setting up phone banks to discuss the issue with Tennessee residents, in hopes of changing people’s perspectives, and working on getting abortion-rights supporters elected in state and local races, said Cathy Henschen, a member of the community group Knoxville Advocates for Reproductive Rights.

One thing is certain, said Henschen: “We are not going to give up. If they think they are going to criminalize abortion and everyone is going to be sad and stay home, they are sadly wrong.”

How are anti-abortion organizations preparing for the possible reversal of the Constitution? Roe? Neither Tennessee Right to Life or Knox County Right to Life, both the state and county chapters of, are available. National Right to LifeMultiple requests for comment were received from, an anti-abortion activist organization.

In a May tweet, Stacy Dunn, president of Tennessee Right to Life, was quoted as saying that her organization wouldn’t comment on the Supreme Court draft and awaited the official opinion.

Still, as Tennesseans who support abortion rights prepare for the possibility that access will end, they’re also racing against time, almost like watching the last pieces of sand drop through an hourglass, uncertain when the final one will fall.

“How do you also provide services when you’re waiting for a decision that could come down at any moment?” Rovetti asked.