Fighting for a Healthy and Free Tennessee


By Anna Carella, co-director, Healthy and Free Tennessee

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When it comes to women’s reproductive rights, we're in a moment in history when we are seeing so many setbacks. Here in Tennessee, we saw the fetal assault bill introduced yet again this year; luckily it was defeated, but it seems we are having to fight it every session. There’s a bill that declares secular humanism a religion and says the state can't support abortion because it's tied to secular humanism and that would be equivalent to supporting a religion. It's just so nonsensical. We're really on the precipice. We're holding on by a thread. It's just terrifying.

We are losing abortion access. We are just up against a slew of terrible policies at the state level. And it's still very hard to get people to focus on state politics. Even with people who consider themselves political, I'm only ever talking with them about federal politics. People just don't feel like they're affected by something until it's right on their front porch. But by the time it actually hits you, it's probably already lost. But there are also opportunities to organize in radical ways that we haven't in the past. And, if women are going to survive this onslaught of horrible laws, organizing and fighting back are the only way.

Advocates of reproductive care in Nashville have ramped up organizing efforts since learning that Planned Parenthood was suspending abortion services in Nashville early last December. That suspension made an incredibly bad situation worse. Planned Parenthood already was dealing with its own two-to-four-week appointment backlog when the only other clinic in the state closed and demand suddenly surged for access to the sole remaining abortion provider. 

It was a situation readily exploited by the so-called crisis pregnancy centers which go to extreme lengths – even lying to women about their medical options – to promote their anti-abortion, anti-contraception agendas. One of those groups, Tennessee Right to Life, even posted on Facebook that it was providing “life-affirming support and referrals” to pregnancy centers offering free services. What that harmful, misleading post meant was that more people who needed abortions were subjected to misinformation, shaming, and pressure to keep unwanted pregnancies. This is dangerous on so many levels.

That’s probably why Planned Parenthood Nashville’s suspension of abortion services hit me like a ton of bricks. But, I realized people were going to be looking to Healthy and Free Tennessee for answers. We’re an advocacy organization and we do policy work. We don’t provide direct services, but we do want to provide information and I knew I had to stay calm.

Before I got into the reproductive movement, I was getting my Ph.D. in International Politics and I deployed to Afghanistan for nine months as a U.S. Army civilian doing research. The loss of abortion around the country and here in Tennessee reminds me of doing IED (improvised explosive device) training. It’s like, ‘OK, your comrade has been hit by an IED. What do you do?’ That's what it really feels like. I hate that it's such a violent metaphor. But it is violent. Oppression is violent. And, it just feels like you have to stay calm on the battlefield and can't forget your training. We can do this. We can organize.

Fortunately, Planned Parenthood resumed providing abortions last month and Carefem, a woman-focused health care company, was able to open a clinic that will also perform the procedure, despite push back from local officials. I’m grateful Nashville-area women will no longer have to travel hundreds of miles to get such an important medical procedure. But two clinics for all of middle Tennessee simply aren’t enough. Plus, I’m worried. What were the repercussions for women who needed abortions during the months there was no local access? Did they risk their lives or even die because they were forced to bring their pregnancies to term? Are they struggling under crushing poverty to feed a mouth they hadn’t planned for? Does having an additional child tie them to an abusive spouse longer? These are the situations our elected officials need to consider when they’re taking it upon themselves to decide what women can and cannot do for their own health and lives.