About that 'Christmas miracle': What it means that Nashville has lost its only abortion provider

Nashville, Tenn. — one of the 25 largest cities in America — has lost its last remaining abortion provider. At least for now.

That seems like a pretty major story.

And indeed, The Tennessean has the basic details on today’s front page:

But the newspaper’s coverage of this stunning development seems overly low-key and matter-of-fact. Ho-hum, in other words.

This is the lede:

The only remaining abortion clinic in Nashville has ceased offering abortions, instead referring patients to clinics hundreds of miles away in Knoxville and Memphis. 

Officials with Planned Parenthood of Tennessee and North Mississippi, which operates the north Nashville clinic, could not say when the clinic would resume providing abortions. The organization has a shortage of abortion providers, a spokeswoman said.

It is also "undergoing a period of quality improvement and will return with these services soon," a statement said. 

It is the second clinic in Nashville to stop providing abortions this year. The Women's Center closed in August after the sale of its building and its operators said then they hoped to reopen. The center has not yet reopened. 

The suspension of abortion services at Nashville's only abortion clinic comes at a time when the number of abortion providers in Tennessee and throughout the Southeast continues to dwindle.

OK, but here’s my question as a reader: What in the world is going on here?

The Tennessean’s coverage — at least what I read — never gets to the nitty-gritty of why this is occurring and what it means in terms of the abortion fight in Tennessee and beyond.

I mean, The Tennessean doesn’t even quote anyone who (a) expresses concern with the news or (b) voices excitement over it. Certainly, folks on both the pro-choice and pro-life sides are sharing their thoughts and opinions on social media:

Perhaps the thinking in the newsroom was that The Tennessean should stick to the facts, ma’am, and let others opine on them. That’s the only explanation I can think of for why the quotes from the Tennessee Right to Life are so dry:

Tennessee Right to Life, which advocates against abortions, is already seeing a spike in women callers who could not obtain abortion appointments in Nashville, said Brian Harris, the organization's president. 

The organization advertises services for women who are pregnant and need help, but does not perform abortions or refer women to abortion clinics. Instead the organization provides free pregnancy tests and ultrasounds. It also offers to connect women to services intended to assist them in continuing their pregnancies to term. 

"The phone has been very busy here with women calling and looking for abortion referrals — busier than they’ve ever been," Harris said. 

Yeah, but what does Harris think of this development?

The Tennessean includes no editorial comment from him, but the pro-life group offered this statement on its own website:

"Planned Parenthood is the nation's largest provider and promoter of abortion and Nashville's Planned Parenthood facility is reputed to be the busiest abortion center in the Volunteer State," said Brian Harris, president of Tennessee Right to Life.

"With the suspension of abortion services in our state's largest city, Tennessee Right to Life is grateful for a Christmas miracle."

“A Christmas miracle,” huh?

How in the world does a soundbite like that not make it into the story? (And since this is GetReligion, here’s an obligatory note that reporters definitely should ask what the group means by “miracle.” Do they mean a literal miracle from God?)

Moreover, beyond giving either side a chance to lament or take a victory lap, where is the analysis of why this is occurring? Even the tweets embedded above offer some possible angles to pursue as far as attempting to explain the root cause.

At this point, I’ll stop and acknowledge that one occupational hazard of media criticism is expecting every daily news story to present an in-depth look at a given topic or issue. When I’m not writing posts for GetReligion, I realize that’s not always possible in the real world. (But it sure would be nice, right?)

On the positive side, I should point out that by reporting certain facts without analysis on anyone’s part, The Tennessean allows readers to draw their own conclusions, such as in this case:

On Monday, the Nashville Planned Parenthood clinic was open for non-abortion services, but its waiting room was empty.

Still, I want to know more — much more — about what’s happening with the abortion issue in Nashville. The Tennessean has reported the basics. Now I hope to read a more definitive report.

And given the generally high quality of that publication, I wouldn’t be surprised to be coming back to you soon with an update and praise for the paper’s follow-up.

Stay tuned.

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