Tennessee Ballot Initiative Could Open Floodgates for Anti-Choice Measures

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Tennessee Ballot Initiative Could Open Floodgates for Anti-Choice Measures

Teddy Wilson

If passed, Amendment 1 would amend the state constitution to include language that says “nothing in this Constitution secures or protects a right to abortion or requires the funding of an abortion.” The amendment would also allow state lawmakers to “enact, amend, or repeal statutes regarding abortion.”

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

Tennessee residents on Election Day will decide whether or not state lawmakers will have the power to enact, amend, or repeal state laws regulating abortion. Supporters and opponents of Amendment 1 have campaigned for a year, and in less than two weeks, a debate that has raged for a decade and a half will finally be decided.

If passed, the measure would amend the state constitution to include language that says “nothing in this Constitution secures or protects a right to abortion or requires the funding of an abortion.”

The amendment would also allow state lawmakers to “enact, amend, or repeal statutes regarding abortion.”

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The Tennessee constitution provides more explicit protections for abortion rights than the U.S. Constitution. A Tennessee Supreme Court decision in 2000 found that a law requiring women seeking abortions to receive state-mandated counseling and complete a two-day waiting period was unconstitutional. The court ruling found that a “woman’s right to terminate her pregnancy is a vital part of the right to privacy guaranteed by the Tennessee Constitution.”

The campaign to amend the state’s constitution began soon after after the 2000 court ruling. “Immediately anti-abortion members of the general assembly and anti-abortion groups in the state started this process to try and amend the constitution,” Jeff Teague, executive director of Planned Parenthood Middle and East Tennessee, told Rewire in an interview.

Teague said that if the amendment passes in November, it would allow state lawmakers to pass laws similar to those in other states that have systematically cracked down on abortion rights. “It would allow anti-abortion members of the General Assembly to pass the same draconian, unnecessary, burdensome restrictions that they’ve passed in Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama,” he said.

The state legislature passed the language of Amendment 1 in 2010, but it was not placed on the ballot until 2014 because it had been passed too late to be included on the 2010 gubernatorial election ballot.

Coalitions have formed to both support and oppose the amendment, with “Yes on 1” and “Vote No On One Tennessee” being the most prominent.

Supporters of the amendment may have a steep hill to climb in convincing enough Tennesseans to vote for the measure.

A public opinion survey conducted in May by Vanderbilt University found that 71 percent of registered voters opposed giving lawmakers new authority to regulate abortion.

During a forum Tuesday, speakers, including Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), Dr. Steve Hammond, and singer-songwriter Jennifer Hicks, spoke to an audience, offering factually dubious information and anti-choice talking points, saying that the amendment’s purpose was not to ban abortion but about giving women more choices.

Hicks, a spokesperson for Tennessee Right to Life and the Yes on 1 campaign, told the audience that if the amendment is passed, the state could impose the informed consent law and mandatory waiting period. “They [women] would have an opportunity to consider all the information during that waiting period and make a real choice,” Hicks said.

The amendment has created sharp divides among the state’s religious community. It is a violation of federal law for religious leaders to endorse candidates, but there is no such law prohibiting from them taking positions on ballot initiatives.

Opponents of the amendment have raised more than $1.5 million, compared to some $631,000 raised by supporters.

The state’s three Catholic diocese have voiced support for the amendment, as has the Tennessee Baptist Convention. Churches are holding special services, during which informational pamphlets that are supportive of the amendment are disseminated.

“Amendment 1 is about sensibility and balance,” said Frank Lewis, pastor at First Baptist Nashville, as reported by the Tennessean.

Meanwhile, a coalition of religious leaders from multiple faiths have joined to oppose the amendment. Earlier this month a group of two dozen faith leaders in Memphis denounced the amendment as “a flawed and dangerous initiative.”

Another group of faith leaders in Nashville held a press conference Tuesday announcing their opposition to the anti-choice amendment.

“I stand here today in the power and love God gives me to say no to Amendment 1, to say I believe in a God who cares about our bodies, our decisions, and our lives, and who gives us the freedom to say no when our bodies, our decisions and our lives are under attack,” the Rev. Claire McKeever-Burgett said during a press conference.