CHOICES Memphis to offer abortion services, gender transition care at new Carbondale clinic

Photo courtesy of CHOICES Memphis
Photo courtesy of CHOICES Memphis

The CHOICES Memphis Center for Reproductive Health will be opening a new clinic in Carbondale later this summer. The clinic will offer abortion services, gender affirming care and gynecologic care.

Jennifer Pepper, CEO and president of CHOICES , said that that the clinic, one of only a couple in Tennessee, is opening because of the expected overturn of Roe v. Wade.

“It’s something my team and our staff have been anticipating and planning for this since November, and it still felt like a gun punch,” she said. “Personally, I had a tiny bit of hope that we’d get a ‘Hail Mary.’ ” But Pepper and her staff are happy to have a plan and have the resources to put it into action.

Illinois’ abortion laws, the least restrictive in the Midwest and among the least restrictive in the country, were a major attraction for the clinic. And Carbondale in particular has geographical benefits. The city, home of Southern Illinois University, is one of a very small number of progressive areas in far southern Illinois. Its location close to the southern tip of the state also makes it very accessible to much of Tennessee, Missouri, Arkansas and Kentucky.

“What’s great about Carbondale, it makes a day trip doable for patients in Memphis and Nashville,” Pepper said. “It’s a long day, but it can be done.” The next closest option is MetroEast, another hour or two up the road. The location will make it the southernmost clinic in Illinois and possibly the U.S. as most states due south already have trigger laws or are planning them.

So far the community has been welcoming. “We chose initially because of geography and and Illinois law, especially after the announcement,” Pepper said. “The amount of love from Carbondale residents has been really touching.”

Carbondale is also getting major benefits. Like other reproductive health centers, CHOICES offers gender-affirming care. In fact, when the clinic started looking at Carbondale as a location, gender-affirming care was at the top of the list. Much of Illinois’ gender-affirming care is centered around the Chicago area. Planned Parenthood of Illinois and some university programs do offer it, but in a large swatch of the state stretching from Carbondale to Mattoon, any care is a two-hour drive or more away.

Abortion providers already in Illinois have also been welcoming and the clinic has ongoing relationships with independent providers and Planned Parenthood of Illinois.

“We have received an incredibly warm reception,” Pepper said. “We’re looking forward to working with them.”

Much of the staff in the new clinic will be locally hired. “My momma would be so happy if I moved to Carbondale, but that’s not my plan,” Pepper said. While a number of staff would be travelling between Memphis and Carbondale, positions like security, nurses, receptionists, billing and coding and clinic management will be Southern Illinois residents.

CHOICES is working with two abortion funds to help Memphis patients access the care, Chicago-based Midwest Access Coalition and Atlanta-based Access Reproductive Care Southeast. Pepper said they will provide practical support to patients, helping with transportation, child care and hotel stays. “Those are the folks that are experts,” she said. “CHOICES doesn’t need to do everything.”

Pepper said that the clinic will open in three phases. The first will be medication abortion and gender-affirming care. Those, along with basic OB/GYN care and wellness, will be available from day one. The next phase will add procedural abortion services and LGBTQ healthcare. In, hopefully, three to five years, CHOICES will be offering midwife and postpartum services.

CHOICES is the first to be opening a new clinic in Illinois as a response to the expected overturn of Roe. But Pepper doesn’t think it’ll be the last.

“I think it’s a viable strategy for folks who have the resources to do it,” she said. “It can be hard to manage especially across states. I hope so, because the number of people needing access will rapidly outpace availability in Illinois.”