Anti-Choice Law Shutters an Abortion Clinic in Tennessee. Clinic Owner Somehow Manages to Make Me Feel Hopeful.

Posted on 8.20.2012 by Amy

Nothing I could possibly write this week could be more pressing than the letter a woman named Deb Walsh wrote 10 days ago.

Nothing could be more touching. Nothing could more starkly represent the nature of the times we're living in.

Maybe you've never heard of Deb Walsh.

She's the owner of Volunteer Women's Medical Clinic in Knoxville, Tennessee. She wrote this letter when she was on the verge of shuttering the abortion clinic where she'd worked for more than 30 years.

She was forced to close the clinic, she writes, because of a Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers (TRAP) law, similar to the one that has threatened Mississippi's only remaining abortion clinic. The laws are one of the ways the anti-choice movement is slowing ending access to abortion in this country, clinic by clinic. Deb Walsh explains:

I found out last night that I will have to close Volunteer Women's Medical Clinic in Knoxville TN, effective today. A law that went into effect July 1st 2012 called "The Life Defense Act", made it illegal for our local, Board Certified OB-GYN physician to perform abortions in our fully licensed Ambulatory Surgical Treatment Center. The law requires Drs. who perform abortions to have local hospital admitting privileges. The law applies exclusively to abortion. One of our Drs., Morris Campbell, was actually able to reinstate his privileges a few weeks before the law went into effect. Sadly, he had a stroke and died a few days after receiving the news about his hospital privileges.

I'm 25 years old. It's hard for me to imagine how anyone would feel disassembling the place they'd worked for 30 years. What relics of feminist history were packed into boxes and stacked into the Uhaul shown sitting outside the clinic in a recent photo? What inspirational signs, contraceptive teaching devices, letters from grateful patients...what must if have felt like to pack all that away?

According to its website, the clinic has been caring for women since 1975. That's two years after Roe v. Wade. That's 38 years. Many of the young women who sought abortions there back in the years when it first opened are probably grandmothers now. Deb Walsh remembers them.

The clinic has been open for 38 years and I have worked there for over 30 years. I still remember the name of the first patient I took care of on the day I started, and I remember the answer an eleven year old girl gave when, after days of counseling, I asked her what she wanted to do. She said "I just want to go ride my new bicycle". No kidding baby girl. So many images remain of the strength of women.......the day we looked out the front window and saw an Appalachian woman we'd just discharged pushing an electric blue Corvette Sting Ray fast enough that her husband could pop the clutch and start the engine.......the coal miner's daughter that was full term and about to go into labor but swore it couldn't be true because no one had ever been "up on" her.......the sorority girl that said she got pregnant by trying on her friend's diaphragm that "must have had sperm on it"......the woman I brought back to life when she stopped breathing who later told us she had withheld critical medical history from us because she was afraid we wouldn't let her have an abortion if she told us the truth......all the Catholic women who had abortions over and over again because taking a birth control pill every day added up to more sins than a few abortions a year.

I'm so angry about this, also sad, and I'm grateful for whatever wisdom I possess that keeps me from feeling like a victim.

Thank you to everyone who has reached out with kind words during this nightmare. Now, I've got to get back to packing. Imagine it all working perfectly.

Deb Walsh

There's a hope resonating through the final words of that letter that took my breath away.

The struggle to maintain abortion access in this country is a mix of bitter, tragic losses and, along the way, some victories.

And lest we end on a totally tragic note, there's success for common sense in Kansas, where a prosecutor has dropped all remaining charges against a local Planned Parenthood, ending what was believed to be the first attempt in the country's history at criminally prosecuting a Planned Parenthood facility. The prosecutor, Phill Kline, is the same one who charged George Tiller with more than 30 misdemeanors. All charges were later thrown out. Three years later, Tiller was murdered.

Some days we win, some days we lose -- irreparably, enormously, senselessly. But there's hope in the movement precisely because of people like Deb Walsh. Precisely because of her courage. Precisely because of her unwillingness to be beaten, even while antis are literally forcing her out the door of her clinic.

Imagine, she says. Imagine it all working perfectly.