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Tenn. Voters Approve Amendment Declaring No 'Right to Abortion' in State Constitution

Tenn. Voters Approve Amendment Declaring No 'Right to Abortion' in State Constitution

November 5, 2014 — Voters in Tennessee on Tuesday approved a ballot initiative (Amendment 1) that amends the state constitution to specify that there is no right to abortion, the Tennessean reports.

The amendment was among the "most closely watched" and "contentious" items on the state's midterm ballot, fueling millions of dollars in ad spending on both sides, according to the Tennessean.

Vote Details

Amendment 1 passed with 53% of the vote. However, "there was a clear urban and rural divide," with voters in metropolitan areas rejecting the amendment by a 2-to-1 margin in some places, according to the Tennessean.

The measure will amend the Tennessee constitution to include the statement, "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."

Impact

The amendment's passage does not immediately change any of the state's abortion policies. However, it could bolster state lawmakers' power to push for new abortion restrictions when the state Legislature reconvenes in January, according to the Tennessean.

Tennessee Right to Life President Brian Harris, who coordinated a campaign to support the measure, said his group would pressure state legislators to restore a series of antiabortion-rights laws that the state Supreme Court struck down in 2000. Those measures included a mandatory delay before a woman can obtain an abortion, a requirement that she receive state-created "educational materials" before the procedure and restrictions on abortion facilities, the Tennessean reports.

Meanwhile, Planned Parenthood Greater Memphis Region President and CEO Ashley Coffield said that abortion-rights supporters "will not stand for restrictions that serve only to create barriers to service" (Wadhwani, Tennessean, 11/5).

The ballot effort was seen as a response from abortion-rights opponents to the 2000 state Supreme Court ruling, which 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. The ruling had made it more difficult for state lawmakers to implement certain antiabortion-rights measures that are in place in other conservative states (Women's Health Policy Report, 10/27).