The New York Times OpDocs / Contractions

June 18, 2024
By Lynne Sachs

Tennessee Abortion Clinic Workers Speak Out About the State’s Near-Total Ban

In Memphis, a doctor and a volunteer driver contemplate
the discontinuation of abortion services at a women’s health clinic
two years after the overturning of Roe v. Wade.

I remember the hollowing sensation I felt on June 24, 2022, the day that the Supreme Court deemed that abortion was not a protected right under the U.S. Constitution. Everyone — on both sides of this debate — knew that women’s lives across the country were going to be drastically transformed. Since then, a lot of attention has been paid to the most heart-wrenching cases, but this decision affects all women’s bodily autonomy across the country.

I returned to my hometown, Memphis, to make a short film outside a building that once offered abortion services. In Tennessee abortion is banned, with no exception for rape and very limited medical exceptions that are being debated in state court.

I interviewed Dr. Kimberly Looney, an obstetrician-gynecologist and former medical officer for Planned Parenthood of Tennessee and North Mississippi, and a volunteer driver who had served as a patient escort for decades. The volunteer, whose name has been withheld to protect her privacy, now drives patients nine hours round trip to Carbondale, Ill., where they are able to have legal and safe abortions.

These women offer distinct perspectives on this radical transformation in American society. Together they speak to a time in U.S. history when women are wondering if they have been relegated to the status of second-class citizens. As Dr. Looney puts it in the film, “You basically, as a physician, had to start counseling your patients from a legal perspective and not a medical perspective.”