Vantage Points

Landmark Abortion Showdown in Tennessee Set for November

Apr. 30, 2014

by Hunter Yoches

Every election cycle, there is one election race or piece of legislation that captures the attention of the nation. This year the state of Tennessee has the honor (if you can call it an honor) of having the most significant voter choice on a ballot in the form of a constitutional amendment. In November, the citizens of Tennessee will find Amendment 1 on their ballot. This amendment is regarding abortion, one of the most controversial issues in the country. Amendment 1 is worded as follows:

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 circumstances of pregnancy resulting from rape or incest or when necessary to save the life of the mother.

History of Abortion Laws in Tennessee

The point of the amendment is to return the jurisdiction of abortion laws to the state legislature. Unlike most states, the Tennessee General Assembly (House of Representatives and Senate) cannot pass laws regarding abortion because of a recent Tennessee Supreme Court ruling. Before 2000, Tennessee had passed laws regulating abortion, which included a waiting period, informed consent laws, and requiring late term abortions to be performed in a hospital environment. In 2000, a landmark decision was made in the case of Planned Parenthood v. Sundquist. Planned Parenthood, along with the ACLU, argued that Tennessee laws violated the “right to abortion” which was “inherent” in the Tennessee State Constitution, greater than those rights in the United States Constitution, which was being governed by the Supreme Court of the United States’ decision in Roe v. Wade (1973). The U.S. Supreme Court had ruled that the states were forbidden from outlawing or regulating any aspect of abortion performed during the first trimester of pregnancy, could only enact abortion regulations reasonably related to maternal health in the second and third trimesters, and could enact abortion laws protecting the life of the fetus only in the third trimester. The Tennessee Supreme Court ruled in favor of Planned Parenthood, thus establishing a right to abortion in the state of Tennessee.

Battle of Ideals and Understanding

After just over a decade of debating and arguing in Nashville, state legislators have finally adopted Senate Joint Resolution 127 (SJR 127). This resolution allows Tennesseans to vote on an amendment to the Tennessee Constitution to make it have a neutral stance on abortion, therefore giving back to the legislature the power to legislate abortion. With the adoption of SJR 127, it has now become Amendment 1 on the ballot.

With a referendum this controversial, there will always be two groups at opposite ends of the spectrum, both having a different interpretation of the law. In favor of this amendment are many churches, pro-life groups, such as the Yes On 1 organization and Family Action Council of Tennessee, and morally conservative voters. The opposition includes Planned Parenthood and the ACLU, along with other pro-choice groups and voters. The controversy that is brewing is generating a lot of discussion and financial donations for each side. Currently The Tennessean reports that Yes On 1 and pro-Amendment 1 groups are bringing in more support and money to promote their views, but Planned Parenthood responded by saying that it will have the upper hand financially and more manpower once the election draws closer. It is no secret that Planned Parenthood has a stronger financial base and will be able to bring in more money from all over the country. Still, you may wonder why you should worry about passage of this amendment. Aren’t most Tennesseans pro-life? Yes, but in the coming year, pro-abortion activists from around the country will be suddenly taking an interest in Tennessee’s politics. Huge amounts of money will be spent on newspaper, television and other advertising opposing Amendment 1. No effort will be spared to defeat this attempt to correct the Tennessee Supreme Court’s distortion of the Tennessee Constitution.  

Both sides have different understandings of the amendment as well. Yes On 1 claims that Amendment 1 will give the power back to the legislature on the issue of abortion and then this power can be used to limit abortions within Tennessee. Planned Parenthood claims that, if passed, it is to serve as a way for voters to ban abortion through their elected officials. Planned Parenthood has on its website that this amendment is a “proposed abortion ban in Tennessee.” The amendment, presented in full context above, is written to reverse the Tennessee Supreme Court decision  Planned Parenthood v. Sundquist (2000) to create neutrality on the issue of abortion, denying the inherent right to abortion, and returning the ability to govern abortion in the state of Tennessee to the citizens through their respective elected officials.   

What This Issue Means To Me

Currently I am involved in supporting the passage of Amendment 1 in two ways. As chairman of the FHU College Republicans, I have been constantly reminding my members of the importance of this amendment and encouraging them to spread the word.  I am in the process of putting together a Yes On 1 rally this fall with other College Republican chapters across West Tennessee. I will also be speaking at the Chester County Republican Party’s meeting on May 6 regarding Amendment 1 as the FHUCR Chairman but also as a representative for the Yes On 1 organization.  My involvement with Yes On 1 came about after I contacted the organization with my original intent to garner resources to distribute. After a talk with a representative from the organization, I knew that I would have greater success with them behind me. I am working to spread information throughout Chester County, Freed-Hardeman University, other universities throughout the state, and will be working in the Shelby County/Memphis area beginning in the fall once I return to Tennessee to continue my education at the University of Memphis School of Law.

Being born and raised in Tennessee, although I live in Florida now, I am proud that my birthplace is in Tennessee and I want the best for the state. Unfortunately, Tennessee is a haven for those seeking abortions, possessing one of the largest rates of abortions in the Southeast, including a high percentage of non-Tennessee residents. A recent analysis by The Tennesseanshowed that out-of-state residents account for approximately 25 percent of the 10,000+ abortions performed each year in Tennessee. This number is likely to rise, as the state of Mississippi is about to shut down its last abortion clinic so Mississippi residents will be looking for abortion destinations. As a Christian, I believe that it is imperative that this amendment gets passed so that legislature can vote on and enact/amend/repeal laws regarding abortions. This amendment, I hope, will give voters in Tennessee the power, through their elected representatives, to limit abortions, as much as possible, throughout the state and to save the lives of the innocent unborn. I believe that the United States Supreme Court was wrong in its decision in Roe v. Wade, but without the ability to repeal that ruling, states need to do everything in their power to limit abortion and saves lives.

* While I am constantly supporting Amendment 1 and encouraging votes in favor of its passage, the most important thing is spreading truthful information. In summary, because of the decision the Tennessee Supreme Court made in 2000, Tennessee lawmakers cannot pass laws on abortion. A YES vote on Amendment 1 returns the ability of making laws on abortion back to the Tennessee state legislature. A NO vote keeps things as is and bars the Tennessee state legislature from passing laws on abortion. Although Planned Parenthood is spreading propaganda that this amendment is an abortion ban for Tennessee, nothing in the amendment bans abortion. All it does is give voters back the power to legislate abortions through their respective elected officials. Regardless of your opinions on politics, politicians, parties or any corruption or compromise that prevents you from voting in good conscience, here is a chance for you to cast a vote that is purely and solely for “life.”