'Our worst fear has become reality': Planned Parenthood prepares for an uncertain future
There are a number of questions with no known answers surrounding the future of pregnancy in Tennessee. The only certainty now is that an abortion is likely to soon not among the available options for responding to pregnancy.
"I am heartbroken that our worst fear has become a reality," said Ashely Coffield, the CEO and president of Planned Parenthood of Tennessee and North Mississippi.
Coffield held a press briefing Friday, several hours after the U.S. Supreme Court reversed Roe v. Wade, effectively revoking the constitutional right to an abortion that has stood for the last 50 years. Abortion rights will now largely be decided by state governments.
“My body, my choice”
“Bans off our bodies”
Protest of Dobbs decision begins in Memphis at Poplar and Highland @memphisnews pic.twitter.com/qkyWDkSKP2
— Laura D. Testino 〽️ (@ldtestino) June 24, 2022
LIVE UPDATES: Abortion in Tennessee updates: Leaders react to Supreme Court decision; push for ban to go in effect before 30 days
INSIDE PLANNED PARENTHOOD: In the hours after the fall of Roe v. Wade, the scene outside Memphis' Planned Parenthood
Protests across Memphis
In Memphis Friday afternoon, people gathered at various points around town to express their feelings about the Supreme Court ruling. Those at a demonstration at Poplar Avenue and Highland Street chanted a popular refrain: "My body, my choice!"
About 50 people were gathered at the intersection as of 5:45. One of those was Sabrina Spence who held a sign reading "I identify as a gun — they have more rights than me."
Spence, a Memphian, said she was "irate" about Friday's U.S. Supreme Court ruling.
Others who were protesting at the location — one of several protest spots around Memphis organized for Friday — had signs reading "Bans Off Our Bodies" or "We Won't Go Back," alluding to the time before the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion.
Signs at this protest, occurring up and down Poplar corridor today 5-7pm, include a simple coat hanger, contact info for Justices Kavanaugh and Thomas, and several “We won’t go back,” alluding to times of pre-Roe pic.twitter.com/uoXNLq2ptm
— Laura D. Testino 〽️ (@ldtestino) June 24, 2022
Some also had coat hangers or contact info for Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. Before the decision reversing Roe vs. Wade was handed down, a man showed up outside Kavanaugh's home and later told police he planned to kill the justice.
Protestors were also gathering at the intersection of Poplar and McLean Boulevard Friday afternoon. More than 150 people had gathered by 6 p.m., holding signs and garnering honks from passing vehicles.
Margaret Askew, 78, said she remembered the time before the Roe v. Wade decision was handed down. She said she had advice for those feeling defeated Friday.
“Don’t let these f***ers get you down. This may be a turning point,” she said.
Askew was working as an actress in New York City in the years leading up to the Roe v. Wade decision. She described a fire that spread among women who demanded they have agency over their bodies.
“I remembered what it took to get peoples’ consciousness going. It can happen again,” she said.
Many others had other profane opinions to share as the main refrain at the intersection seemed to be: "this is bulls**t."
Multiple cars cruised by the intersection, honking horns as passengers joined the chants of the protesters of "My Body. My Choice. Scotus doesn't have a voice."
Emily Wilson arrived outside Planned Parenthood on Poplar Avenue in Memphis around 5 p.m. with her 2-year-old daughter Vivian in tow.
Wilson was one of a dozen protesters in the 95-degree heat waving signs saying “Bans Off Our Bodies” and “Regulate Dicks.” The protesters stood in the same place four anti-abortion activists were Friday morning in the hours after the U.S. Supreme Court handed down the decision overturning Roe v. Wade and allowing states to outlaw the medical procedure.
About 30-40 pro-choice demonstrators on all four corner of the Poplar & McLean intersection.
Lots of honks of support, also lots of water present. pic.twitter.com/p4m2tEACpD
— 〽️icaela Watts📰 (@megawatts2000) June 24, 2022
As cars drove by and drivers honked and passengers cheered and a few jeered, Wilson said the ruling will cause “chaos.” But all wasn’t lost, she said.
“It inspires people like us to make a real difference and push our politicians to … learn basic human anatomy,” Wilson said. “I try to have hope. I think there’s hope.”
Protests outside Memphis
As a mass gathering of pro-choice demonstrators gathered in front of the Supreme Court in Washington D.C., the physical reaction in the way of protestors stayed sparse in Memphis, where the high is expected to reach 97 degrees by the end of the day.
As Coffield addressed media, a handful of anti-abortion activists remained outside of the building, their moods victorious.
Inside, Coffield laid into Tennessee lawmakers who have worked to steadily reduce access to abortion over the past two decades. Adjusting to changing legislation regarding abortion access has been a consistent feature of the work at Planned Parenthood.
"They bartered our bodies for votes," Coffield said.
Coffield and the staff at Planned Parenthood are not surprised by the court's decision. They have been preparing for this day; the dominant emotion is anger, not surprise. Security was already beefed up in anticipation at all Tennessee locations.
Staffers are also anticipating the next court decision that will render abortion illegal after six weeks of gestation time in Tennessee.
"We are waiting for the 6th circuit of appeal to lift the injunction on the ban in Tennessee. That is a near-complete ban, since most women do not know they are pregnant at six weeks," Coffield said.
Patients are still on the books for abortion procedures Friday, and staffers are working quickly to fulfill those appointments, likely the last legal abortions in Tennessee for an indefinite amount of time.
After the draft of the Roe v Wade decision was leaked in May, Coffield announced that the women's reproductive healthcare provider was already in the process of training patient navigators, whose role would be pairing patients with financial and travel resources so they may access abortions in other states.
But beyond the logistical barriers to seeking an abortion, there are also questions about what consequences women with a life-threatening pregnancy will face in Tennessee.
An ectopic pregnancy, where fertilization occurs outside of the uterus, is a life-and-death situation due to the high risk of internal bleeding. Coffield isn't sure what lengths women will have to go through if their life is at risk.
"I hope that we're able to take care of people in Tennessee with pregnancies that aren't in the uterus, but it's a question of the risk that providers are willing to take when they see patients with difficult circumstances...we're very concerned about the consequences for women in that situation and others," Coffield said.
For now, Coffield said, the next decision staffers at Planned Parenthood will be waiting for will come from the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals; Coffield said it is likely the court will lift the injunction on a six-week abortion ban, "which is a near-total ban."
As staffers at Planned Parenthood await a total ban, Coffield emphasized that the clinic is still able to work with those who need an abortion, even if it's helping them travel out of state.
The clinic will also remain open, Coffield said, for other needs that fall under reproductive healthcare.
Editor Brett Barrouquere and reporter Corinne S Kennedy contributed to this report.
Micaela Watts is the Access and Equity reporter for The Commercial Appeal. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Laura Testino reports on education and children's issues for The Commercial Appeal. She can be reached at email@example.com.
This article originally appeared on Memphis Commercial Appeal: Planned Parenthood in Memphis prepares for overturned Roe v Wade