January 2017 – A mom tours the area’s first and only birth center. Excited to be one of the first patients, she steps into the large, comfortable suite where her baby will be delivered naturally. The décor is beautiful – warm and inviting with soft colors and a home-like feel.
Just down the hall, a waiting room is filled with pregnant mothers. No one speaks. No one makes eye contact. The air is thick with fear and uncertainty. Others have grown cold and hard – it’s not the first time they’ve been here. They all know why they are here. Before the day is over, they will be pregnant no more. The crushed and dismembered remains of their tiny babies who were thriving just minutes earlier will be dropped into a red plastic bag marked “infectious waste.”
That’s the vision at Choices – Memphis Center for Reproductive Health in Memphis, Tennessee, where an expectant mother can have it either way – life or death.
As the first step in making this double-edged vision a reality, Choices, Tennessee’s oldest freestanding abortion clinic, has purchased a vacant medical building about a mile away from its current location in Midtown Memphis. The group is preparing for a campaign to raise $3 million to renovate and expand the new space where they will offer abortions and live births under the same roof.
“We are in the process – the very beginning process of doing the planning to open the area’s first licensed birthing center,” Rebecca Terrell Choices administrator told Commercial Appeal. “So, this will give women the option – um – to have their babies in a licensed facility with a midwife as opposed to a hospital birth or a home birth with a midwife.”
Perhaps a more suitable depiction of Deuteronomy 30:19 would be difficult to imagine: “I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. So choose life in order that you may live, you and your descendants may live.”
It is a perplexing scenario that an abortion clinic would increase its operations space by 9,000 square feet when, according to a new report by the Tennessee Department of Health, the number of abortions in the area has decreased by 37% in recent years – from 4,595 in 2011 to 2,914 in 2014.
The decreased number of abortions in Memphis is dramatically sharper than the national decline of 12% and the state decline of 20.3%. For that same time period, the ratio of abortions per live births also dropped from 326.4 per 1,000 to 208.2 per 1,000. Something is happening in Memphis. Women are having their babies.
A number of shifts over the last few years have likely played a role. While pro-abortion activists may claim the change is due to better birth control methods and abortifacient usage, others may credit legislative restrictions.
In 2014, Tennessee voters passed Amendment 1 to the state Constitution clearing the way for enforcement of restrictions on abortion such as a 48-hour waiting period and counseling requirements. While these changes have likely further reduced the number of abortions, they went into effect in 2015 – after the referenced timeframe.
A light shining
For years, life-affirming individuals and groups have prayed and worked tirelessly to bring programs to the Memphis area to help women become informed. For instance, one pregnancy resource center operates a free mobile ultrasound unit, often seen parked outside one of the two Memphis abortion clinics. A 2013 survey conducted by the National Institute of Family and Life Advocates revealed that 78% of abortion-at-risk mothers choose life after viewing an ultrasound.
And in 2013, the Christ-centered nonprofit, the Morning Center, began providing free full-service prenatal and maternity care for women in the city’s urban and under-served areas. (See AFAJ 6/15.)
Funded by Samaritan Health Sharing Ministry, private donors, and a few private grants, the Morning Center currently operates four clinics in Memphis. The center operates each clinic with a full staff: supervising physician, nurse practitioner, sonographer, and administrative and support personnel who all pour out the love of Jesus Christ on women and unborn children.
Since the MC’s opening in August 2013, nearly 300 babies have been delivered. They now average 16-20 deliveries per month – all at absolutely no charge to the patients. While the Morning Center’s original plan was to build a 50-bed birthing center, the model of meeting the patients in their own communities is working remarkably well. And local hospitals have graciously responded by offering the Morning Center discounted fees.
The center and its partners go far beyond the immediate needs of a pregnant woman and her baby. The long-term spiritual and practical needs of the women, their children, and families are addressed as well.
Is it possible that Memphis is beginning to experience a change of heart? Les Riley, executive director of the MC, expressed his hope for such a shift early in the center’s operation.
“When 50 grows to 200, every one of those 200 women will represent families impacted by the gospel,” said Riley. “And as it grows to 1,000, the Morning Center could put the Memphis abortion industry out of business. We are like a little mustard seed that expands and fills the whole city.”
Meanwhile, the abortion clinic is likely feeling financial repercussion. Although officially a nonprofit, its fees for abortions are substantially higher than the national average. The average first-trimester surgical abortion is $480, but Choices fees start at $700 with optional sedation for $280.
Rates for licensed birth center deliveries are a fraction of hospital charges; however, the overhead is considerably less. State Medicaid programs and some insurance companies pay for a portion of or all birth center services.
While Choices may be attempting to make up for lost revenue, the organization is also attempting to advance one of its core values, to remove stigmas associated with abortion.
In recent years, abortion clinics across the country have tried to place abortion on equal footing with giving birth by adding abortion doulas to their staff. A doula is defined as a woman trained to assist another woman during childbirth and who may provide support to the family after a baby’s live birth. Doulas do not necessarily have medical training or degrees. They come alongside the expectant mom as a comforting presence during labor.
However, abortion clinics began grossly misapplying the term about 10 years ago. On its website, Choices recruits volunteers to fulfill the role of “abortion doulas” who “provide companionship, support, and compassionate encouragement to patients during the abortion procedure.”
For all practical purposes, a doula could be used interchangeably, comforting one mother while giving birth in the morning and reassuring another mother while aborting her baby in the afternoon.
A number of obstacles stand in the way for Choices to accomplish its goals including funding, zoning issues, and a Tennessee law that requires abortion clinics to obtain licensing as ambulatory surgical centers – a costly undertaking. The clinic has challenged the law and fully expects the courts to strike it down in light of the Supreme Court’s rejection of a similar law in Texas.
Federal courts have overruled state legislatures and the will of the people for years in favor of abortion. However, President Donald Trump’s nominations for Supreme Court Justices and potentially hundreds more to U.S. district courts and the U.S. Court of Appeals could bring that longstanding injustice to a grinding halt.
The Morning Center expansion projects are underway in: