Tennesseans to decide in 2014 whether State Constitution guarantees a right to abortion

By Dave Andrusko

After more than a decade of work by pro-life Tennesseans, Senate Joint Resolution 127 will be on the November 2014 statewide ballot. SJR 127 returns authority for abortion regulation to the people of Tennessee and their state legislators and reads as follows:

”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.”

SJR 127 is necessary because of a radical 4-1 ruling by the Tennessee Supreme Court in 2000 which wrongly claimed as “fundamental right to abortion” in the Tennessee Constitution.  As a result, common sense pro-life protections were immediately stripped from state law books including informed consent for women considering abortion, a 48 hour waiting period and requirements that second trimester abortions be performed in equipped and regulated hospitals rather than abortion facilities.

This 2000 ruling was subsequently used to justify striking down the Tennessee law which had required licensure, inspection and regulation of abortion facilities the same as other outpatient surgical facilities.

“The (state) Supreme Court’s decision, even though the word abortion is not in the constitution, found it in there after 200 years. We’re putting the constitution back to where it was before the liberal Supreme Court found abortion in the constitution,” said Rep. Bill Dunn, R-Knoxville.

Without legislative passage of SJR 127  now—and public approval in 2014— pro-life Tennesseans will continue to be unable to pass pro-life protections being enacted by other states around the nation.  For example, without SJR 127 there can be no required ultrasound provisions for abortion vulnerable mothers, no ‘women’s right to know’ laws, no meaningful regulation of abortion facilities in Tennessee.

Additionally, existing protections in Tennessee such as parental consent and ban on use of tax dollars are also at risk of being struck down as violating Tennessee’s judge-created “fundamental right to abortion.”

Part of the reason the fight went on so long is that “Tennessee’s amendment process requires a resolution to win approval by majority votes in one two-year term of the state legislature, then by two-thirds majorities of both legislative chambers in the following two-year term before it can be sent to a statewide referendum at the next gubernatorial election,” according to  Richard Locker, a reporter for the Memphis Commercial Appeal.

“It won Senate approval earlier this year and passed the House today on a bipartisan 76-18 vote – 10 more votes than required in the 99-member House,” he added.

SJR 127 must win voter approval by a majority of those voting in the governor’s election on the same ballot to become part of the Constitution.

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