CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. (CN) – Before the National Memorial for the Unborn became a place designed for mourning abortions women and their partners later regretted, it was the site of Chattanooga’s last abortion clinic.
A cross wrapped in white roses stands before a wall of small plaques and names. Stuffed bears and rabbits crowd a shelf that also holds yellowed notes, wrinkled at the corners, and fresh ones placed this July.
After anti-abortion activists bought the building in a bankruptcy sale and shut the clinic down in 1993, they demolished a portion of the building where abortions were performed and, inspired by an account in the Old Testament, placed a limestone boulder – an Ebenezer stone – to commemorate a victory they believe came about only with God’s assistance.
Today, if a woman in Chattanooga seeks an abortion, she must drive about two hours to Knoxville or Nashville, Atlanta, Georgia or Huntsville, Alabama.
Chattanooga is one of 27 cities in the country termed an “abortion desert” by a 2018 study published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research, a city where a woman seeking to terminate a pregnancy has to drive more than 100 miles to the nearest abortion clinic.
The distance some women have to drive for an abortion is the reason why abortion clinics in the state are challenging a Tennessee law in federal court requiring women to wait 48-hours between an initial, in-person consultation with an abortion provider and the actual procedure.
It’s a law that could delay any Tennessee woman’s abortion for weeks, said Aimee Lewis, vice president of external affairs for Planned Parenthood of Tennessee and North Mississippi.
“For patients who have low income or inflexible work schedules, or live in rural areas that are far away from the health centers, they have to miss work, they have to lose wages, they have to pay for additional travel and childcare, just to access the care,” Lewis said. “It's especially onerous for patients who have to travel.”
Lewis added the law demonstrated lawmakers’ distrust in women’s decision making abilities.
The National Bureau of Economic Research, a non-partisan organization, said the effects of mandatory waiting periods for abortions have changed as now 27 states mandate some kind of waiting period before obtaining an abortion, even as the number of abortion clinics decline. The research organization published a working paper examining Tennessee’s 48-hour waiting period this month.
Advising readers to view the results with “some caution because of limited statistical power,” the study estimated that the 48-hour waiting period in Tennessee increased the number of second-trimester abortions by 38% while reducing the number of overall abortions by 6%.
“In total, the mandatory waiting period could increase the monetary cost of obtaining an abortion by a total of over $900 when accounting for fees, transportation costs, lost wages, and childcare,” the study found.
On Monday, the lawsuit brought by Tennessee abortion providers such as Planned Parenthood heads to a bench trial in a federal courtroom in Nashville. Among their arguments, the abortion providers argue a 48-hour wait for an abortion violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution because it treats women and their decision making differently.