On the 41st anniversary of the landmark decision Roe v. Wade, pro-life advocates in Tennessee are already organizing to get the word out about a crucial public vote that will show up on the ballots in November of this year. Amendment One is an amendment to the Tennessee Constitution that will allow our legislators to pass and enforce policies regulating abortion and safety practices.
“When Roe v. Wade was passed over 40 years ago, Tennessee was strongly pro-life, and still is,” explained Marcia Briggie, President of the Macon County Chapter of Right to Life. “In 2000 a radical pro-abortion ruling was passed down by the Tennessee Supreme Court in the case called Planned Parenthood of Middle Tennessee, et al v. Sundquist. They claimed to have found a ‘fundamental right to abortion’ in the TN Constitution.”
The case cited clauses in the original TN Constitution that protected personal privacy, saying that ‘privacy’, in this case, could also refer to unrestricted abortion access. In this one ruling, the following safety precautions, on the books since the 70s, were struck down:
*A required 48 hour waiting period for abortions
*A hospitalization requirement for second and third trimester abortions
*Informed consent for women considering abortions
Those laws, and any other proposed laws that have passed through our legislature since, were rendered ineffective by this one TN Supreme Court ruling. There is also no required inspection or regulation of abortion facilities in the state of Tennessee.
The proposed amendment would add the following words to our State Constitution:
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.
So what will this amendment do?
“The biggest error I hear folks making is assuming it will make abortion illegal,” said Briggie. “This amendment will not make abortion illegal. Roe v. Wade is a federal law and is a matter to be handled on Capitol Hill. But if passed, Amendment One will restore TN citizens’ right and ability to decide legislatively what the state laws regarding abortion will be.”
According to Briggie, these laws would include “commonsense” measures like re-instating informed consent laws. “Informed consent is a medical-legal term which means a patient must be informed about the procedure about to be performed, its expected results and risks. It must be read by or to the patient and signed by the patient. It is required in order to have quite minor medical procedures done: root canals, etc. But it is no longer required in Tennessee for an abortion to be performed. Abortion is a major surgery. It is accompanied by life-threatening risks, as well as a life-long psychological and emotional trauma for many women.”
Briggie went on to state that TN is currently an “abortion destination.” The 2000 ruling made us the state with the fewest restrictions within a wide swath of the southeast US. According to the TN Department of Health, there were 16,115 abortions performed in TN in 2011. 3,747 of those were out-of-state residents. 23% of the abortions performed in Tennessee are on out-of-state patients. In 2009, the number of abortions performed in the following southern states were as follows: Tennessee—17,474; Alabama—10,882; Arkansas—4,580; Kentucky—4,120; Mississippi—2,438.
Briggie stated that she doesn’t consider Amendment One to be a partisan issue. “We have lots of proud supporters who are Democrats,” she said. “And I am not affiliated with either party.”
Whether this cause is taken up by the right or the left, the passage of this amendment is already a matter of major controversy between the top figures in the Pro-Choice and Pro-Life movements in our state.
“I think it’s going to be a fight, that’s for sure,” Jeff Teague, the president of Planned Parenthood of Middle and East Tennessee, told the Tennessean, in an article dated November 4 of last year. “The fact that the other side is already kicking off their effort so early is a (recognition) on their part (that) it’s going to be a fight.”
The Democratic Party of Tennessee passed a resolution against this bill during a meeting on Saturday, January 25. David Harper, Democratic State Executive Committeeman for District 17 (which includeds Macon County), took a stance against the bill:
“What it does—the bill is written very deceptively,” said Harper. “And the bill effectively turns over all rights to the state legislature. If you look at that bill and look at what it says, it says exactly that. And the way it’s written is very hard to ascertain what it’s about. It’s not only about the abortion… there’s a real distinct difference between the right to birth and the right to life. So we are opposed to that bill in every way. And the reason for that is just simply, we trust people to have good judgments for themselves and we do not think that the state legislature should be the one making those decisions. They’re very personal and they’re very private. And we respect people to have their own judgments. Now we don’t necessarily agree with them—but we respect them, and we do not think that we should turn that over to the government.”
And what is his response to the claim that TN is now an abortion destination?
“I would have to tell you that I do not know any facts concerning that,” said Harper. “I would not believe that to be a true statement. I believe that may be an emotional plea to turn the power over to the legislature. I think that’s not factual information. I’m not saying that it isn’t, but I do not believe that it is.”
There have been some recent victories in Tennessee for the pro-lifers. Two years ago, TN Governor Haslam oversaw a major defunding of Planned Parenthood. He worked with the Health Department to see that 1.1 million state dollars of healthcare funding were redirected to health facilities in the Nashville and Memphis area. Formerly, one-third of this money was going directly to Planned Parenthood. The funds have since been restored to Planned Parenthood in the Memphis area by Rep. Steve Cohen.
Also, “David’s Law” was passed in Tennessee, requiring that anti-coercion plaques be displayed in all abortion facilities. In 2011, Gov. Bill Haslam signed a measure into law requiring doctors performing abortions to have hospital admitting privileges within the home or adjacent county where the procedure is performed. This caused the shutdown of at least one clinic, in Knoxville.
But on the whole, it’s business as usual for the abortion industry in Tennessee. There are nine operating abortion clinics in the state, in Bristol (one facility, unlicensed), Elizabethton (one facility, unlicensed), Knoxville (two facilities, one unlicensed), Nashville (two facilities, one unlicensed) and Memphis (three facilities, one unlicensed).
“Our goal,” concludes Briggie, “is to educate the voting public about Amendment One before the November election so that voters will know that a YES vote is a pro-life vote.”
It is crucial to understand the kind of majority vote required to amend the TN Constitution. For an amendment to pass, it must get a number of “yes” votes equal to 50% of the votes cast in the Governor’s race… plus one. A majority vote is not enough. So, for example, if 2 million people voted in the Governor’s race, the bill would need 1 million and one “yes” votes to pass. In other words, voting in the Governor’s race and not voting on Amendment One is effectively a ‘no’ vote for the bill.