perform abortions. The framework for CHOICES that’s been used since its formation, Leopard says, is “if you give people information — scientifically based, factual information, that they will make the choices that are best for them, and all you have to do is support them.” Over the last 10 to 15 years, Leopard says the organization began looking at other reproductive health-care needs not being met in the community. In addition to providing abortion care, the center now offers pre-natal care, fertility and birthing services, and wellness care to the transgender community and those living with HIV. “There are issues around birth that people deserve choices for, too, and we should be able to do that,” Leopard says. “Today we do everything from fertility to birth and everything in between. If it has to do with your sexual, reproductive organs, we do it.” In an effort to provide this more holistic approach, Leopard says CHOICES is opening a new, larger clinic in 2020. This means the services provided at the two current clinics on Bellevue and on Poplar will be offered under one roof. This will make CHOICES one of three centers in the country to provide abortions and birth in the same location and the first nonprofit in the country to do so. “For us, it didn’t make sense to only
be an abortion provider,” Leopard says. “It’s an unsafe thing to be, and it was a strategy of the anti-choice movement to carve abortion out and make it this weird thing that’s done in a house somewhere. It re-stigmatizes and supports the stereotype that abortion is some kind of odd, bad procedure. But it’s a part of women’s reproductive health care, and it belongs with all these other things that are about reproductive health.” The new space will also allow CHOICES to see more patients, Leopard says. “We can’t see all the patients who would like to come see us in a timely manner because capacity is maxed out.” The new model makes sense for patients, but it also makes sense legally, Leopard says. If legislation passes that places greater restrictions on or bans abortions here, the new all-encompassing model will allow CHOICES to remain open and perform its other services while it challenges the ban in court. “If you want to be around to fight the fight, then you prepare,” she says. And CHOICES is preparing by building a comprehensive center. “We can’t do abortions? Fine. We’ll do all the other things while we take you to court.” CHOICES is already challenging one law that puts a barrier between women and abortions — the 48-hour waiting period. The law requires women to have a physician visit 48 hours before she can
receive an abortion. The law’s supporters say it’s meant to reduce coerced abortions and to allow time for women to carefully consider the information presented by the physician. Leopard calls it a “crazy barrier.” Ashley Coffield, CEO of Planned Parenthood Tennessee and North Mississippi (PPTNM), agrees, saying that Tennessee is one of the worst states in the country in terms of barriers. She cites the 48-hour rule as a major contributor to this, calling it one of the “most onerous restrictions we have,” and noting that it places an extra burden on patients, particularly on low-income women. “You have to take additional time off work, maybe another day of childcare; you have to travel to the health center twice,” Coffield says. “It’s just a lot, and it’s medically unnecessary.” Along with CHOICES, Planned Parenthood of the Greater Memphis Region and of East and Middle Tennessee, as well as the Knoxville Center for Reproductive Health and Adams & Boyle, P.C. are plaintiffs in the lawsuit against Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery and other state officials. The lawsuit, which argues that the waiting period “imposes significant burdens and offers no health benefits to abortion patients,” is set to go to court next month. “Last Support System” Two girls wearing yellow traffic vests
stand on the sidewalk in front of Planned Parenthood’s main office on Poplar. They offer purple goodie bags to those approaching the clinic’s entrance. Inside the bags are a box of Mike and Ike candy, a bottle of nail polish, a journal, and a brochure with “Women’s Care Network” written on the front. On the back of the brochure is a list titled “helpful resources,” including Christ Community Health Clinic, Birthright Memphis, and the Abortion Pill Reversal Hotline. “We’re just here to support women,” one of the girls says, smiling and waving at those coming and going from the building. The girls are just two of 25 volunteers with the Memphis Coalition for Life who participate in sidewalk advocacy aimed to steer women away from abortion. The coalition was formed in 2018 with the mission of ending abortion in Memphis “peacefully and prayerfully.” Jessica Wade, founder and executive director of the organization, says the group aims to do that by connecting pregnant women with the resources they need to help them carry their pregnancies to term. “We don’t picket, protest, or yell at women,” Wade says. “We’re just there to be that last support system and listening ear for them as they are about to make that decision. If they choose to take us up on that support, then we walk with them. If continued on page 12
COVER STORY m e m p h i s f l y e r. c o m
Kent Pruett (beside-left) and Eliza Sims (b-right) protest; Ashley Coffield (above) is CEO of Planned Parenthood Tennessee and North Mississippi.