Commissioner David Tomita - pictured here in a June 27, 2014 file photo - cast the only dissenting vote for a resolution supporting Amendment One, a state-sponsored measure that would alter the governance of abortion in Tennessee. (File photo/Johnson City
Washington County commissioners approved a resolution Monday in support of “Amendment One,” a change to Tennessee’s Constitution that would insert language empowering the General Assembly to enact, amend or repeal state statutes regarding abortion, including for pregnancies resulting from rape or incest or when necessary to protect the mother’s mortality.
The amendment is on the Nov. 4 state general election ballot. In Tennessee, an initiated constitutional amendment must garner a simple majority of those voting in a gubernatorial election year.
The resolution was generated in the county’s General Health and Welfare Committee, where on July 8, committee Chairman David Shanks distributed to members a copy of an email sent by state Rep. Bill Dunn, R-Knoxville. Dunn is a member of Tennessee Right to Life, an organization advocating pro-life legislation.
“This resolution came from Representative Dunn,” Shanks told commissioners. “This amendment allows the state of Tennessee to govern abortion clinics. It does not in any fashion overturn Roe versus Wade. It provides safeguards for women. It will stop Tennessee from being an abortion destination. It allows the state to license and regulate abortion clinics. It also provides a safeguard against the use of taxpayers dollars toward abortions.”
The U.S. Supreme Court’s 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade resolved that a right to privacy under the due process clause of the 14th Amendment extended to a woman’s decision to have an abortion. This disallowed many state and federal restrictions on abortion.
All but one commissioner voted to support the resolution, and that was David Tomita.
“We certainly can’t affect Roe v. Wade,” Tomita said. “I’m just curious as to why this is in this body?”
Shanks said Washington Countians could be forced to pay for abortions through the county’s insurance if “the feds force it.”
“To me, this is not really an issue for us to opine on,” Tomita replied. “We can opine as individuals all day long. That’s our right. But my job as a local legislator does not require a decision that’s made on a state or federal level.”
Tomita declined further comment on his stance on abortion.
A “Frequently Asked Questions” section was included with the resolution in the agenda. Shanks said it was taken from the “Yes on 1” website. It explains how the Tennessee Supreme Court “stripped away” protective pro-life legislation in its 2000 finding of a fundamental right to abortion. As a result, abortion policy in Tennessee has become “basically abortion on demand.”
Neither parental consent nor abortion funding were challenged in Planned Parenthood v. Sundquist, and both could face being ruled unconstitutional “if challenged by the abortion movement,” the informational item states. It goes on to talk about “what we are trying to accomplish” and the “hope to positively influence public policy again.”
In 2000, the Tennessee Supreme Court ruled in Planned Parenthood v. Sundquist that the state constitution contained a stronger right to privacy and abortion than even the U.S. Constitution. But the amendment regarding abortion, sponsored by state Sen. Mae Beavers, R-17th, will modify the state constitution thus allowing the legislature to enact whatever regulations and restrictions permitted by the United States Supreme Court.
The measure would prohibit state funding, and any change to abortion laws would have to be generated by elected officials and passed in both the state Senate and House.
State Rep. Matthew Hill has said that if passed, Amendment One will restore the right of Tennessee citizens to decide legislatively what state laws regarding abortion will be instead of the leaving them in the hands of liberal courts and judges.
Republican Gov. Bill Haslam, Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey and House Speaker Beth Harwell back the amendment. Ramsey has launched a campaign supporting the measure called “Vote Yes Tennessee.”
In April, the Senate voted 24-8 to put the amendment on the ballot. In May, the House voted 76-18 to do the same.
Several weeks ago, the Tennessee Democratic Party announced it was strengthening its campaign against the controversial amendment. The state’s Democratic Party Chairman Roy Herron said it would give the Tennessee legislature more power to regulate and possibly even ban abortion and that “large majorities of Tennesseans disagree with what the amendment would do.”
There are no declared Democrats on the Washington County Commission. Nor are there any identified Democratic candidates on the Aug. 7 county general election ballot.
County commissioners also unanimously approved a resolution adding all vapor products, including, but not limited to, electronic cigarettes, to the list of tobacco products banned in all county-owned facilities.
“All this does is add e-cigarettes to our existing policy,” said County Mayor Dan Eldridge.
Specialized devices known as “vapors,” “tanks” and “mods” can be refilled with nicotine liquids made by a range of producers, as opposed to typical e-cigarettes that are either disposable or refillable only with a company’s own brand of cartridges.
Follow Gary B. Gray on Twitter @ggrayjcpress. Like him on Facebook at www.facebook.com/garybgrayjcp.comments powered by Disqus