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Shelby Co. Voters Guide: Amendment One

October 15, 2014

This is the first in a series of posts on Shelby County’s November 4, 2014 election. Back in River City will cover the four proposed amendments to Tennessee’s constitution and several key races on the ballot.   yes-no-buttons Voting on constitutional amendments is often tricky, because people who frame arguments for and against such measures are tricky themselves. Some political strategists figure, if voters are sufficiently confused by the arguments presented, they will likely vote “No” to keep the status quo rather than take a chance on passing something they don’t understand.


Credit: Dan Collins Cartoons

The debate on Amendment One is a good example of this theory at work. Here is the Amendment as it appears on the ballot:

Proposed Constitutional Amendment No. 1

for the November 4, 2014 General Election Ballot

Shall Article I, of the Constitution of Tennessee be amended by adding the following language as a new, appropriately designated section: 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.

Opponents present Amendment One as a very bad thing. taliban amend oneOh, dear.

Tennesseans for the Preservation of Personal Privacy (TPPP), a political advocacy group opposing the amendment, kicked off their statewide campaign in May 2014 by publishing an ad headed Vote No on the Tennessee Taliban Amendment. The ad included the above cartoon along with arguments equating Tennessee legislators with the Taliban “who control women.” The Chattanooga Times-Free Press and Knoxville Sentinel ran the full ad. The Commercial Appeal and Nashville’s Tennessean ran the ad without the accompanying cartoon.

The Vote Yes on One  organization has a very different take on the impact of adding Amendment One to Tennessee’s constitution.

Credit: Yes on 1 Ballot Committee

Credit: Yes on 1 Ballot Committee

What an endearing picture! Who could be the against the protection of  sweet, curly-headed children? No wonder some voters are confused.

Let’s ignore the attempts at passionate persuasion and boil the issue down to the basic facts.


The central argument posed against Amendment One by TPPP is that women have the right to “run their own lives,” which includes making their own decisions about abortion. Their ad warns,

“the ultimate intent is so the Tennessee legislature can control reproductive decisions for all women, including birth control, in vitro fertilization (IVF) and legal abortion.”

Wait a minute. Roe v. Wade, anyone? Planned Parenthood v. Sundquist?

Would Amendment One really take away the right to legal abortion in Tennessee?

Absolutely not. Nothing in Amendment One changes access to abortion in Tennessee. Current law stays in place.

But, doesn’t the law limit the right to abortion in “circumstances of pregnancy resulting from rape or incest or when necessary to save the life of the mother”?

No. What the amendment says is that, in the future, elected state representatives and elected state senators could choose to pass legislation regarding abortion, just as they can choose to pass legislation on any other issue before them.

If Amendment One doesn’t change the current law, why do we need it?

Because in 2000,  Planned Parenthood Association of Tennessee v. Don Sundquist, Governor of Tennessee found a “fundamental right to privacy” (which includes the right to abortion) in the Tennessee Constitution that is broader than federal law. The Court struck down as unconstitutional several Tennessee statutes placing limits on abortion and protecting abortion patients. These included Tennessee residency requirements, a requirement that abortion patients be informed by a physician that abortion is in many cases a major surgical procedure, a two day waiting period, and a requirement that second trimester abortions be performed in a licensed hospital. Medical emergency exemptions to informed consent and waiting period laws (in cases where the life of the mother was in jeopardy) were also ruled unconstitutional. Currently, Tennessee cannot  regulate, inspect, or license facilities that perform abortions – and unless Amendment One passes, we cannot  have even basic restrictions like these to protect women who face abortions.

strict scrutinyIn addition, the Court applied the “strict scrutiny” standard to any future laws regarding abortion passed by the Tennessee General Assembly. This is the most stringent standard applied to judicial review throughout all U.S. Courts. Under strict scrutiny, any Tennessee law restricting access to abortion in any way can be ruled unconstitutional unless the State can prove that the law is justified by a “compelling state interest and is narrowly tailored to meet that interest.” Strict scrutiny effectively eliminates any new Tennessee laws limiting abortion, because they would not be able to meet the strict scrutiny standard. It also makes the few protective laws still on the books (including parental consent before a minor can have an abortion procedure and a TennCare budget provision limiting funds for abortion except in the case of rape, incest, or to protect the life of the mother) essentially void because of their vulnerability to legal challenge. 

As a result of Planned Parenthood v. Sundquist, Tennessee – a state where the majority of citizens are Pro-Life – became an abortion destination. We are one of only 16 states with a fundamental right to abortion, and are the only state in the southeast without waiting period or informed consent laws. In 2011, the latest year for which statistics are available, 23% of abortions in Tennessee were performed on women from other states. We now rank third among the 50 states in performing  abortions on women from other states.

The Commercial Appeal reports:

In Alabama, abortion rights advocates have set up an online crowd-sourcing campaign to raise funds to help women get to Nashville for an abortion. In northern Mississippi . . . the National Organization for Women refers women facing unwanted pregnancies to CHOICES, a Memphis abortion clinic. And in Kentucky, advocates have organized rides for women to clinics in Nashville and Bristol in East Tennessee. At least one Tennessee clinic, The Women’s Center in Nashville, advertises $25 discounts for out-of-state clients.

Amendment One restores the right of Tennessee citizens to have common sense laws that protect the unborn as well as women who elect to have abortions. Period. Nothing will change unless and until Tennesseans want their legislators (and governor) to pass new laws.

No matter what the mainstream media, left-leaning political groups, Democratic politicians and sexually liberated college co-eds say to confuse the facts, abortion-on-demand advocates are not in the majority in Tennessee. When they portray the Tennessee General Assembly as a group of tyrannical, female-bashing men committed to stripping away women’s reproductive rights, they are ignoring a few fundamental facts.

  • Roe v. Wade is federal law and cannot be undermined or countermanded by state law.
  • 17% of Tennessee legislators in 2013 were women, including the Speaker of the House.
  • The people of Tennessee freely elect legislators to represent their interests and values and hold them accountable for their votes. Legislators either vote the will of the people or they are voted out.
  • Notwithstanding a Democratic Party majority in Shelby County, Tennessee is now a solidly red (Republican) state where the majority of voters desire common sense restrictions on abortion and statutes providing protection for both the unborn and women who seek legal abortions.

Look closely at the language used in No on One scripts. They predict a future that is inconsistent with reality. If Amendment One is passed, abortion will remain legal . The Tennessee General Assembly  will still function democratically. Proposed laws regarding abortion at any time in the future will be hotly debated by people on both sides of the issue, by legislators and the people who elected them.

Sometimes unpopular laws do get passed. When that happens, voters organize lobbying efforts and get them appealed or revised in another legislative session.


Can you say, “Common Core”?

Political advocates and lobbying organizations who use scare tactics and misrepresentations count on voters who don’t know the facts.  Never, ever make a voting decision based on political ads or one news source alone.  We live in a world where many people (especially politicians, regrettably) believe that the end justifies the means. And so they lie to get people to support their position.

Always know the facts.

magnifying facts v lies

If we stick to the facts, your decision on Amendment One should be clear. If you want Tennessee to remain an abortion-on-demand state, with no ability to enact restrictions or patient protections of any kind, vote No. If you want to restore our state representatives’ rights to pass abortion-related legislation that reflects the will of the voting majority, vote Yes.

It is your choice.   fact check election hdqtrs

4 Comments leave one →
  1. October 17, 2014 1:18 pm

    Will you have the voter’s guide out before the end of early voting?

    • October 17, 2014 6:23 pm

      Thanks for asking! For this election, our voters guide will consist of a series of blog posts on key elections and issues. Amendments One and Two are up; everything else should be up within a week. Sorry we didn’t get this done before early voting started – life intervened!

  2. October 19, 2014 1:58 am

    Good job, Eve. Thanks.

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