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Tennessee state Sen. Jim Tracy
Associated Press/Photo by John Russell
Tennessee state Sen. Jim Tracy

Tennessee pro-lifers want statewide referendum

Abortion

A coalition of pro-life groups is pushing for a referendum in Tennessee that would undo rulings by the state’s Supreme Court declaring several pro-life laws unconstitutional.

In 2000, the Tennessee Supreme Court declared unconstitutional two-day post-counseling waiting periods, an informed consent law, and a law requiring hospitalization for risky late-term abortions, stating that the laws violated privacy rights.

Amendment 1 would neutralize the Tennessee constitution on abortion, stating, “Nothing in this Constitution secures or protects a right to abortion or requires the funding of an abortion.” It adds that the people retain the right to legislate on abortion through elected officials. The referendum will be included on the Nov. 4, 2014, ballot.

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“The amendment doesn’t ban abortion,” said David Fowler, president of Family Action Council of Tennessee (FACT). “The goal is to put the constitution back where it was before the Supreme Court effectively amended it.”

Hedy Weinberg, executive director of Tennessee’s American Civil Liberties Union, told The Wall Street Journal that the amendment would lead to laws that place “rigorous burdens” on women seeking an abortion. “We are preparing to aggressively mobilize voters to vote no,” she said.

But state Sen. Jim Tracy, a co-sponsor of the amendment, said the potential pro-life laws would be “common sense legislation to protect women’s rights and children’s rights,” like the previously mentioned informed consent and wait-period laws. Tennessee is the only state in the southeastern United States that has not yet enacted such laws. As a result, Tennessee has become an abortion destination for people living in the surrounding eight states, Fowler said.

Fowler, then a state senator, first sponsored the amendment in 2001, but it wasn’t until 2011 that a resolution passed with bipartisan support. Last month, Yes on 1, a coaltion of FACT, Right to Life Tennessee, Tennessee Eagle Forum, and other pro-life groups, sponsored an educational fundraiser for the referendum that raised $250,000. The amendment’s ratification in November 2014 requires not only a majority vote, but also a specific voter turnout: 50 percent of the voters in the last gubernatorial election plus one voter.

The primary concern facing the pro-life campaign isn’t the pro-abortion groups persuading people to vote against it, but that the opposition will create “enough doubt that people don’t vote on the amendment,” Fowler said. 

Courtney Crandell
Courtney Crandell

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