News Politics

Abortion Restrictions Loom in Tennessee After Anti-Choice Ballot Initiative

Nina Liss-Schultz

Following the passage last week of Amendment 1, the Republican-dominated Tennessee legislature will move forward with anti-choice laws as soon as possible, a state GOP lawmaker said.

Following the passage last week of Amendment 1, the Republican-dominated Tennessee legislature will move forward with anti-choice laws as soon as possible, a state GOP lawmaker said.

Republican Beth Harwell, speaker of the Tennessee House of Representatives, said last week that she will use a successful anti-choice ballot initiative as the impetus to back three new anti-choice bills, including one related to waiting periods, one centered around mandatory counseling, and one TRAP (targeted regulation of abortion providers) law creating new abortion facility regulations that have proven medically unnecessary in other states dominated by anti-choice legislators.

Five abortion clinics in the state already voluntarily meet those standards.

It was during the midterm elections on November 4 that voters approved Amendment 1, a measure that amends the state constitution to clarify that it does not protect the right to abortion and allows state lawmakers to “enact, amend, or repeal statutes regarding abortion.”

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Mandatory counseling and waiting period laws are common among anti-choice legislators across the country, as 35 states require that a woman receive counseling before an abortion, and 26 of these states have laws requiring that a woman wait for a certain amount of time between the counseling and the abortion procedure.

All eight states bordering Tennessee have both kinds of laws in place, according to the Guttmacher Institute.

In 2000, Tennessee’s supreme court struck down a package of anti-abortion bills, including some that were similar to the three now being pushed by Harwell and leading state Republicans.

Amendment 1 was passed with 54 percent of the vote after a multi-million dollar campaign from both sides. Tennessee joins Arkansas, Colorado, and Rhode Island as states that have explicitly amended their state constitutions regarding abortion.

“I think the general population has spoken,” Harwell told the Tennessean. “The citizens have said they want us to examine our abortion laws and see what appropriate action needs to be taken, and I believe the legislature will look for some common sense regulations that ensure that abortion is a safe procedure in our state.”

Legal abortion care is overwhelmingly safe in the United States. And, as Rewire has reported, reproductive justice activists in the state, including Cherisse Scott of SisterReach, feel that anti-abortion measures like Amendment 1 have “the potential to send women back to the back alleys where we died from unsafe and unsanitary abortions.”

Because of the 2000 court decision, Tennessee was an anomaly in the South, with few abortion restrictions relative to its surrounding states. Anti-choice activists and GOP lawmakers bemoaned the state’s abortion laws, calling the state an “abortion destination” for residents in neighboring states who had seen conservative legislators crack down on abortion rights.

Tennessee’s abortion laws could be radically different once the state legislature returns in January.

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