The last clinic providing abortions in Knoxville halted its abortion services Friday morning after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in a historic callback of the landmark decision which legalized abortion nationwide in 1973.
The Knoxville Reproductive Health Clinic (KCRH) announced Friday morning via its website and Facebook page that they would halt abortion services as Tennessee prepares to make performing or attempting to perform an abortion a Class C felony.
“With great sadness and regret, KCRH will no longer provide abortion services,” a post to the clinic’s Facebook said. “We will remain open for family planning and GYN services.”
Across the nation, abortion clinics in conservative-run states shut down operations Friday, some even sending home patients sitting in waiting rooms.
On the KCRH website, a purple banner at the top of the screen read “ROE V WADE IS OVERTURNED! ABORTION IN KNOXVILLE IS NO LONGER AVAILABLE!!!!”
The KCRH, located on Clinch Avenue on the edge of UT’s campus, was already an access point for abortions across East Tennessee and the entire Southeast region before an arsonist destroyed the Planned Parenthood of Knoxville on Dec. 31, 2021. The person responsible for the fire remains unidentified.
On the morning of May 2, a suspicious package left behind the KCRH building led the KPD bomb squad to conduct x-ray scans and deploy a robot to determine the contents. Later that afternoon the package was cleared.
That same evening, Politico published a leaked draft of the Supreme Court opinion overturning Roe, which was later verified but did little to temper the shock of the official ruling. The Dobbs vs. Jackson Women’s Health Organization opinion passed down on June 24 was nearly identical to the leaked draft.
In the majority opinion, Justice Samuel Alito, joined by four members of the conservative wing of the court – Clarence Thomas and Trump appointees Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett – wrote that Roe had imposed a “highly restrictive regime” on states which had previously restricted or banned abortion.
“It is time to heed the Constitution and return the issue of abortion to the people’s elected representatives,” the opinion stated.
As thousands of protestors flooded city streets across the U.S. in response to the ruling, anti-abortion advocacy groups and elected officials celebrated what for decades had been an elusive dream and an unanswered prayer.
Stacy Dunn, president of Tennessee Right to Life, the oldest and largest anti-abortion organization in the state, spoke at a press conference in Nashville shortly after the ruling on Friday.
“In their Dobbs vs. Jackson Women’s Health decision, the Supreme Court has made a monumental, a historic decision that will save the lives of millions of unborn children across the nation,” Dunn said.
Tennessee Right to Life and its fellow anti-abortion organizations acknowledged how long of a fight had led to the historic overruling.
“This is a great day and we have great reason to celebrate. Those of us who are active in today’s pro-life movement stand on the shoulders of those who, in 1973, refused to accept that Roe vs. Wade and legalized abortion was settled law for the land,” Dunn said. “They started and continued those efforts that brought us to this victory today.”
At a protest against the ruling in downtown Knoxville on Friday, Dr. Aaron Campbell, an OB/GYN and medical director of the KCRH, said before a crowd of hundreds that he would continue providing abortions even if he was no longer able to do so in Knoxville.
“I am Knoxville’s local abortion provider. Thank you all for coming out. This is devastating, but now is not the time to sit down. Now is the time to fight,” Campbell said. “I may not be able to do your abortions here but I will keep doing abortions. Nothing will stop me, except maybe a bullet.”
By returning the legal status of abortion to states, the conservative wing of the court called back the constitutional basis for the right to abortion and destabilized nearly 50 years of precedent, including that used in the case which legalized gay marriage in 2015.
11 states, including Missouri, Arkansas and Alabama, immediately banned abortion following the ruling, some through pre-Roe laws and some through so-called “trigger bans.”
Six other states, including Tennessee, have bans which are set to go into effect shortly after Dobbs v. Jackson. In Tennessee, the “Human Life Protection Act,” passed in 2019 but blocked by courts, is set to ban almost all abortions beginning July 24, 2022.
The law makes narrow exceptions for pregnancies which endanger the life of the mother, but includes no exceptions for incest or rape or for the earliest weeks of a pregnancy, when medication abortion is most common.
On May 6, Gov. Bill Lee signed a bill outlawing the sending of abortion pills through the mail, cutting off an avenue of abortion access in a post-Roe landscape. That law will go into effect on Jan. 1, 2023.
In the meantime, Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery filed an emergency motion Friday asking the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals to lift an injunction on a six-week abortion ban passed by the state legislature in 2020.