Abortion law leads off Tenn. amendment proposals

Gary B. Gray • Jul 5, 2014 at 9:40 PM

Four amendments to the Tennessee Constitution will be on the Nov. 4 general election ballot, including a proposed change that puts elected officials in the driver’s seat when it comes to abortion rights.

“Amendment One” would add a completely new section to Article 1, inserting constitutional language empowering the legislature to enact, amend or repeal state statutes regarding abortion, including pregnancies resulting from rape or incest or when necessary to protect the mother’s mortality.

The measure would prohibit state funding for abortions. Though the amendment reads “The people retain the right,” any change to abortion laws would have to be generated by elected officials and passed in both the state Senate and House before voters could choose for themselves.

In Tennessee, an initiated constitutional amendment must garner a simple majority of those voting in a gubernatorial election year.

“If passed, Amendment One will restore the right of Tennessee citizens to decide legislatively what state laws regarding abortion will be instead of leaving them in the hands of liberal courts and judges,” state Rep. Matthew Hill, R-Jonesborough, said this week. “While many in the Democratic Party may be in favor of abortion, I will always stand strong in protecting the unborn and will be proudly voting in favor of Amendment One in November.”

Republican Gov. Bill Haslam, Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey and House Speaker Beth Harwell are backing 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.

Last week, the Tennessee Democratic Party announced it was strengthening its campaign against the amendment.

“If (Roe v. Wade) is overturned, then Amendment One would let Tea Party Republicans compel Tennessee women to bear rapists’ children and even deny couples the right to save the desperately ill wife’s life,” said Tennessee Democratic Party Chairman Roy Herron.

Herron said the amendment 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.”

In 2000, the Tennessee Supreme Court ruled in Planned Parenthood v. Sundquist that the Tennessee 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-Mount Juliet, will modify the state constitution, thus allowing the legislature to enact whatever regulations and restrictions are permitted by the United States Supreme Court.

The high court’s landmark 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. The court later ruled that a person has a right to abortion until “viability.” In general terms, this means until a baby is able to survive outside the mother’s womb with artificial aid.

This disallowed many state and federal restrictions on abortion and prompted a national debate that continues today about issues, including whether, and to what extent, abortion should be legal, who should decide the legality of abortion, what methods the Supreme Court should use in constitutional adjudication and what role religious and moral views have in shaping policy.

Roe v. Wade split much of the country into pro-choice and pro-life camps.

The state constitutional amendment on abortion will formally appear on the ballot as follows: “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.”

The remaining three proposed amendments on the Nov. 4 ballot:

• Amendment No. 2: Supreme Court/appellate court judges would be appointed for a full term or fill vacancies at the discretion of the governor, confirmed by the Legislature and thereafter retained in election by voters. Default confirmation occurs when the Legislature fails to reject an appointee within 60 days of either the date of appointment, if made during the annual legislative session or the convening date of the next annual legislative session. Article VI, Section 3.

• Amendment No. 3: Other than the authority to tax privileges or taxes in the Constitution, the Legislature would not be permitted to levy, authorize or otherwise permit any state or local tax upon payroll or earned personal income or any state or local tax measured by payroll or earned personal income. However, any tax in effect as of January 1, 2011, would not be affected. Article II, Section 28.

• Amendment No. 4: Prohibits all forms of lottery unless authorized by two-thirds vote of each house of the General Assembly for an annual event operated by a 501(c)(3) organization. Adds 501(c)(19) as qualifying organization. Article XI, Section 5.

To view the amendments in their entirety, go to http://www.tn.gov/sos.

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