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Abortion trigger law takes hold | The last reproductive health center in Knoxville closes doors

The Clinch Avenue clinic first opened in 1975. It is closing its doors after 47 years of service.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Clinics that offered abortions across the state have shut their doors because of Tennessee's anti-abortion trigger law, which makes it a felony for a doctor to perform an abortion.  

That means women seeking abortion treatments must now head to another state.

It was already complicated for women in Knoxville to seek an abortion. The East Tennessee Planned Parenthood Clinic burned down on December 31, 2021, due to arson. Authorities have yet to name a suspect in that case.

Now, the last standing clinic, The Knoxville Center for Reproductive Health is closing too.

More than 40 years ago, Elaine Batchelor was in nursing school at the University of Tennessee. While completing her degree, she worked in the office at the Knoxville Center for Reproductive Health. She was a part of helping the doors open to the public in 1975.

"I was fortunate enough to open up on the first day," Elaine said.

Elaine said she saw a lot during her time at the clinic.

"When I did work for the Knoxville Center for Reproductive Health, we had many women that came in and talked about the horrible scenarios that they had before Roe v. Wade," Elaine said.

Throughout her nursing career, Elaine said she grew respect for the Roe v. Wade decision. She eventually became an emergency room nurse and saw the situations that can happen with unplanned pregnancies.

"I saw 12-year-olds come in pregnant from incest. I saw rape victims. I saw women miscarrying. I saw women in every situation of pregnancy that you can imagine," Elaine said. "But, what I did not see was a law in Tennessee that followed the physician around."

For the first time in decades, abortion treatments are not available to those folks. The law contains effectively no exceptions. While it allows abortion treatments in cases where a woman's life is in danger, it still requires physicians to defend themselves in court, putting their licenses on the line.

Thursday was the first that Elaine's daughter, Justina, had seen a state without guarantees to healthcare that was afforded in the Roe v. Wade decision. She's never seen it another way.

"I'm heartbroken. And I think that's because I'm a woman, but also because I'm a mother," Justina said.

Justina is a mother to two boys. She said she was very enthusiastic about being pregnant and having kids. However,  she admitted that pregnancy is tough.

"When you're pregnant, even in the best of times, you really need care and support," Justina said. "I know from my experience, having children myself, that sometimes things don't go smoothly in pregnancies. And sometimes people have to make really gut-wrenching decisions."

Justina's boys make Elaine a grandma. She said she hopes things change when they grow up.

"I cannot imagine that their generation, my grandchildren, will put up with not having agency over their own body," Elaine said,

Though generations have passed since the Knoxville Center for Reproductive Health opened its door for services, Elaine never thought she would live to see it close.

"I remember arranging the chairs, setting up the lockers, all that kind of stuff on the first day that it opened. That clinic has operated for almost 40 years, and it closed last month, closed the doors," Elaine said. "And that, to me, is really kind of devastating."

Her daughter, Justina agreed.

"It's sort of heartbreaking to know that that center that she opened up, is closed and can't provide that care anymore. And now her daughters are in a situation that's worse than the one that she helped create and start for us," Justina said.

On the Knoxville Center for Reproductive Health website, it said "It has been an honor and privilege to have been your health-care provider, some of you for many years. We are grateful for the opportunity to have served your medical needs. "

The agency said it will permanently close on August 31.


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