Bristol Catholic community standing for life as pro-choice facilities choose between Tennessee, Virginia
By Casey Keeley
After the June Supreme Court ruling reversing Roe v. Wade that now allows states to make their own decisions on abortion, Tennessee immediately sprang into action to protect the lives of the unborn.
Gov. Bill Lee has been an advocate for the unborn and signed into statute Tennessee’s “trigger” law, the Human Protection Act, which makes it illegal to perform an abortion in the state except in extenuating cases where the life of the mother is at risk.
Virginia, on the other hand, still is considered a “safe-state” for women seeking abortions, allowing abortions in most cases through the second trimester, and the Bristol Regional Women’s Center is already planning to take advantage of Virginia’s status.
“The Bristol clinic served a fairly large area,” said Angie Bush, who is representing St. Anne Catholic Parish in Bristol, Va., during the Bristol 40 Days for Life campaign. “The next closest clinics that serve the eastern Tennessee region are in Roanoke, Va., and Asheville, N.C.”
The Bristol, Tenn., center has been the only provider of chemical and surgical abortions in the Tri-Cities since its founding more than 40 years ago. Underneath the “services” tab of its website is a list of procedures it performs as well as a list of criteria that patients must meet for a coupon that awards them a $25 discount on their abortions.
In the wake of the landmark Supreme Court decision and as Tennessee’s trigger law was set to take effect on Aug. 25, the Bristol Women’s Health center opened nearby in late July, just across the state line in Virginia, where it performs chemical and surgical abortions.
An employee of the original clinic started an online fundraiser that raised more than $100,000 to cover expenses with the new Bristol Women’s Health facility.
“The problem is that these women facing an unplanned pregnancy feel very alone and isolated,” said Dr. Jacquelyn Early, an emergency medical doctor who is participating with Ms. Bush in 40 Days for Life. “They don’t realize that there are people who care about them, and they think that the decisions they make do not affect other people when they really do. Every person praying for these women also cares about them and the choices they make.”
Behind the operations of the clinics on both sides of Bristol is Diane Derzis, who has owned several abortion facilities across the southern United States, including the Jackson Women’s Health facility clinic in Jackson, Mississippi. This is the clinic behind the U.S. Supreme Court decision Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which led to the decision that abortion is not a constitutional right.
Additionally, Ms. Derzis has operated clinics in Columbus, Ga., Richmond Va., and Birmingham, Ala., where she has lived. After closing the center in Mississippi, she planned to open another one across the country in New Mexico.
There are resources and facilities available in the Tri-Cities aimed at helping women of all ages facing unplanned pregnancies, which include Catholic Charities of East Tennessee’s Pregnancy Help Center at 1409 W. Market St. in Johnson City and Hope House Center for Women at 1567 N. Eastman Road in Kingsport. Some of the services they offer include post-abortion support and counseling, free pregnancy testing, and ultrasounds.
“It’s through the Holy Spirit that hearts change,” Ms. Bush said. “The other side is going to be direct and angry; they are already educating our young people with the false narrative that abortion is good. It is up to us to learn to be more direct and not worry about hurting other people’s feelings for the sake of truth.”