National Partnership for Women & Families

In the News

Antiabortion-Rights Ballot Measure at 'Center Stage' in Tenn. Election

Antiabortion-Rights Ballot Measure at 'Center Stage' in Tenn. Election

October 27, 2014 — A ballot initiative (Amendment 1) that would declare that there is no guaranteed right to abortion "has taken center stage" in this year's election in Tennessee, the New York Times reports (Fausset, New York Times, 10/24).

Background

Amendment 1, which will be on the November ballot, would amend the state constitution to include the statement, "Nothing in this Constitution secures or protects a right to abortion or requires the funding of an abortion" (Women's Health Policy Report, 9/30). Under state law, state constitutional amendments must garner more than 50% of votes cast in the gubernatorial race to be enacted.

The ballot effort is a response from abortion-rights opponents to address a 2000 state Supreme Court ruling that found that "a woman's right to terminate her pregnancy is a vital part of the right to privacy" under Tennessee's state constitution and that any abortion restrictions should be subject to a "strict scrutiny" legal standard. According to the Times, the ruling has made it more difficult for state lawmakers to implement certain antiabortion-rights measures that are in place in other conservative states.

Battle 'Has Grown Fierce'

According to the Times, the fight over Amendment 1 "has grown fierce," with the Vote No on One Tennessee campaign committee raising $1.9 million and the Yes on 1 campaign committee raising slightly more than $900,000 as of the end of September.

Supporters and opponents of the measure differ sharply on its potential impact and their interpretation of the state's current level of abortion restrictions.

According to the Times, supporters of the ballot initiative -- including Gov. Bill Haslam (R), who is running for re-election, and several state lawmakers -- argue that Tennessee has become an "abortion haven" among more-restrictive states in the region. They say that the constitutional amendment would make it easier to align the state's abortion laws with those of its neighbors.

According to the state health department, 23% of women who received abortions in Tennessee in 2013 did not live there.

Meanwhile, opponents of the measure reject the notion that Tennessee is an abortion destination with liberal laws. They note that state lawmakers have enacted abortion restrictions, including a requirement that abortion providers have hospital admitting privileges, since the 2000 court ruling. They have also pointed out that people from neighboring states travel to Tennessee for many types of services, not just abortion care, that are not widely available outside of urban areas.

Opponents' messaging largely focuses on the amendment's ability to restrict Tennesseans' privacy rights and enable politicians to interfere with personal decisions, the Times reports.

Ballot Measure's Chances

The simultaneous governor's election could be a key factor in determining the amendment's prospects, according to the Times, which adds that state Democrats have a "comically poor" chance of defeating Haslam because they do not have a strong candidate. Rebecca Terrell, executive director of the Memphis abortion clinic Choices, said, "When there's no real candidate to vote for, it's hard" to get out the vote to protect abortion rights.

However, a Vanderbilt University survey conducted earlier this year found that 71% of respondents opposed providing the state Legislature with the ability to further regulate abortion. In addition, abortion-rights supporters are "somewhat cheered" by the high vote threshold needed for state constitutional amendments to pass, according to the Times (New York Times, 10/24).