The Tennessean Series Examines Abortion Laws, Access in State

May 22, 2012 — The Tennessean recently published a special series -- "Abortion in Tennessee" -- that compiles data, interviews and other reports about abortion access and policy in the state. The series aims to provide insight into how abortion affects the lives of individual Tennesseans, as well as what is at stake in a statewide vote in 2014, when residents will decide whether to amend the state constitution to eliminate the right to an abortion.

Summaries of key articles in the series appear below.

~ Constitutional amendment: In 2014, Tennessee voters will consider whether to amend the state constitution to say that nothing in the document "secures or protects a right to abortion or requires the funding of an abortion" and that lawmakers may "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." The amendment is meant to undermine a 2000 Tennessee Supreme Court ruling that said the state constitution contains a "fundamental" right to abortion, thus striking down three antiabortion-rights measures previously passed by the Legislature. Since the ruling, a growing proportion of women have come to Tennessee from out of state to obtain abortion care, in large part because of increasing obstacles and a dwindling number of providers in neighboring states (Wadhwani [1], The Tennessean, 5/19).

~ Court petitions: Although Tennessee has required parental consent for minors to obtain abortion care since 2000, there are no public records of how many minors apply for or are granted judicial waivers to the requirement. The law stipulates that all records related to minors' cases be kept confidential, but it also mandates that the state Supreme Court create rules for preparing statistical summaries and other reports related to the cases, which the court has not done. Abortion-rights opponents are pushing state officials to release more information (Wadhwani [2], The Tennessean, 5/19).

~ CHOICES: A health clinic known as CHOICES: The Memphis Center for Reproductive Health -- one of nine clinics in the state that offers abortion care -- two years ago decided to be more open about promoting its mission of comprehensive reproductive health care for women. After nearly four decades of keeping a low profile, the health center moved to a larger building in a prominent location and added "CHOICES" to the front of its name, posting a sign outside, clinic director Rebecca Terrell said. The clinic also expanded its services and now sees about 1,245 patients annually for fertility, gynecology and other health services, in addition to 2,360 abortion procedures last year. Terrell said clinic leaders recognized that other providers were not meeting women's full reproductive health needs. For example, one fertility clinic in the area will not treat women who are not married, she said (Wadhwani [3], The Tennessean, 5/19).