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Campaigns Gear Up for Tennessee Anti-Choice Amendment

Emily Crockett

Tennessee voters will decide in November 2014 whether to pass a constitutional amendment restricting access to abortion.

Read more of our articles on the Tennessee ballot initiative here.

Tennessee voters will decide in November 2014 whether to pass a constitutional amendment restricting access to abortion, and the anti-choice campaign in favor of the amendment is gearing up.

Amendment 1 would for the first time introduce language about abortion into the Tennessee Constitution, and would open the door to a greater number of restrictions on abortion, like those in Texas. While the language of the amendment passed the general assembly in 2010, it had to wait until 2014 for a vote because it was passed too late to go on the 2010 gubernatorial election ballot.

Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar, stars of the reality television show 19 Kids and Counting, started campaigning for Amendment 1 at a Tennessee church Monday night. Jim Bob Duggar has come under fire for comparing the modern-day United States to the Holocaust. At a separate event Monday, Tennessee Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey launched the “Yes on 1” campaign, which expected to raise over $250,000 at the kick-off event.

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Lawmakers in Tennessee have, for the time being, dropped efforts to pass other abortion-restricting legislation in order to focus all their efforts on the amendment. Doing so also bolsters their claims that the amendment is the only way for Tennessee to regulate abortion.

“Their argument that they can’t pass restrictions on abortion is just not true,” Jeff Teague, president of Planned Parenthood of Middle and East Tennessee, told Rewire.

Anti-choice advocates have been pushing for an amendment like this since 2000, when the Tennessee Supreme Court affirmed a woman’s right to have an abortion as part of her right to privacy. That ruling struck down numerous restrictions on abortion, although it upheld rules requiring minors to obtain parental consent. It also didn’t prevent Tennessee lawmakers from passing new hospital admitting requirements two years ago, which forced two abortion-providing facilities to close.

The text of the amendment reads:

Nothing in this Constitution secures or protects a right to abortion or requires the funding of an abortion. The people retain the right through their elected state representatives and state senators to enact, amend, or repeal statutes regarding abortion, including, but not limited to, circumstances of pregnancy resulting from rape or incest or when necessary to save the life of the mother.

Anti-choice advocates argue that one-quarter of Tennessee abortions are sought by women from out of state, but Teague says that these numbers hardly indicate that Tennessee has lax abortion laws.

“It’s not because the laws are easier, it’s because it’s the most convenient place for them to come,” Teague said, noting that Tennessee clinics are closer to some women who live in neighboring states that have few clinics. Furthermore, many of those out-of-state residents are college students whose permanent address is not in Tennessee.

Planned Parenthood and the American Civil Liberties Union are preparing a campaign to fight the amendment. Their research shows that people are opposed to the amendment when they understand what it actually entails, Teague said.

“People in these organizations backing the amendment have openly said they think abortion should be illegal in this country,” Teague said. “For anybody to think that they want to pass restrictions that they think will protect women is ridiculous.”

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