Sunday Nov 27, 2022

Abortion is just the latest dividing line between the twin cities of Bristol and Bristol – Tennessee Lookout – Tennessee Lookout


BRISTOL, Tenn. and BRISTOL, Va. — The community of Bristol is proud to straddle the border between two states.

Tennessee flags fly on the south side of State Street, Virginia flags on the north. A series of plaques down the middle of the main downtown thoroughfare mark the twin cities’ divide. A large sign at the end of town reminds everyone they’re right on the state line.

After the U.S. Supreme Court’s June decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which gave regulation of abortion back to states, such borders make all the difference in what care is available. In Tennessee, most abortions will soon be illegal. In Virginia, they won’t be.

For staff members at Bristol Regional Women’s Center, an OB-GYN practice that offers abortions in Bristol, Tennessee, the proximity to Virginia created an opportunity. They could ensure access by helping open a clinic on the other side of the state line in Bristol, Virginia.

“Why did we choose Virginia?” asked Diane Derzis, who owns the clinic, which opened in July about a mile across town. “It just made sense.”

Clinics across the country are still adjusting to the new legal landscape created by Dobbs. Some have shut down completely. Others have scaled back the services they offer. Still others have relocated hundreds of miles away.

A federal appeals court allowed Tennessee’s six-week abortion ban to take effect, and a near-total ban is set to begin in late August. Meanwhile, Virginia still allows most abortions through the second trimester.

The adjoining towns govern independently and are subject to different state laws, said Anthony Farnum, mayor of Bristol, Virginia. The covid-19 pandemic, he said, provided a good example. “It was interesting,” Farnum said as he sat outside the Burger Bar, a diner just a stone’s throw from the state line. “The bars on the Virginia side closed at 10 p.m., and masks were required. The bars were open to 2 a.m. on the Tennessee side, no masks required.”

A large sign extols the community of Bristol’s footprint in two states ― Tennessee and Virginia. Each state regulates abortion very differently, and that’s created a unique chance for a new clinic to open its doors and keep serving patients.(Sam Whitehead / KHN)

Also, each state handles sales and income taxes differently, Farnum said. And his city is home to Virginia’s first casino, something that can’t be found in Tennessee. What’s happening with abortion is just the latest example.

Derzis said a doctor at the Bristol Regional Women’s Center reached out to her with the idea for the Virginia clinic. Derzis owned Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the Mississippi clinic at the heart of the Dobbs case. She said she’s working to offer abortions to people across the Southeast who have lost access as states restrict the procedure. She opened Las Cruces Women’s Health Organization in southern New Mexico in late July after closing her clinic more than 1,000 miles away in Jackson, Mississippi.

“It’s like a game of dominoes. It’s just a huge swath of states not offering the service any longer,” Derzis said. “So those women have to go north or west.”

Derzis opened the clinic in Bristol, Virginia — registered with the state as Bristol Women’s Health — in late July and said she’s already had a few patients. Derzis said the Tennessee …….


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