Yes or No? Abortion rights rest on decision

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Murder. A woman's right to control her body. Right to life. A woman's body. Pro-choice. Pro-life. A baby's life. Yes on 1. No on 1.

There are many terms associated with abortion, and which ones you use depend on which side you support. Voters on both sides of the debate will have a chance to have their say in the general elections. Early voting starts today, and election day is Nov. 4.

Supreme Court ruling

There are four proposed state constitutional amendments on the ballot. Proposed amendment No. 1 would allow the Legislature to change abortion rules. Those rules changed in 2000 and 2002. In 2000, the Tennessee Supreme Court overturned by a 4-1 vote many of the state's abortion regulations in a decision called Planned Parenthood v. Sundquist. Another suit in 2002 struck down a state requirement that clinics had to be licensed and regulated.

Voting yes on 1 would allow Tennessee legislators to tighten abortion regulations while a no vote would leave abortion regulations alone.

Nearly 25 percent of abortions in Tennessee are performed on women and girls from out of state, according to Yes on 1.

Abortion safety

Pro-life advocates focus not only on the life of the child but on the safety of the abortion clinics as well.

"Half the facilities are not licensed or inspected by the state health department," said Katy Brown, director of church outreach of Yes on 1, an initiative headed up by Tennessee Right to Life.

A woman's choice

One local woman says she wants the government to stay out of people's bedrooms.

"A woman has a right to protect her body or to do with her body as she wants," said Wanda Campbell, wife of Tom Campbell, chairman of the Bedford County Democratic Party. "A man has the right to do with his body as he wants."

Should voters decide?

But Brown, a Bell Buckle resident, said a yes vote would be a matter of men and women providing their input into the abortion debate.

"Four Supreme Court justices decided abortion policies for all of Tennessee," Brown said. "Yes on amendment one would put the policies back in the hands of Tennesseans. Tennessee is very much a pro-life state, but Tennessee now is third in the nation for out-of-state abortions," because of the 2000 court ruling, Brown said.

"Tennessee cannot require licensing. Amendment 1 will say we do not have a fundamental right to abortion. This will enable the state Legislature, when they reconvene in January, to begin to bring forth bills to reinstate protections."

Campbell said she disputes claims that there is a lack of oversight of clinics.

"I believe we would hear more about them if they were not up to snuff," she said.

What would change?

The amendment would make no exceptions for cases of rape, incest or troubled pregnancies that endanger the woman, said Steven Hershkowitz, communications director for Vote No on 1. He said that all physicians who perform abortions in Tennessee are regulated.

"You don't have to be pro-choice to feel something is wrong with the government coming in and telling you how to make a healthcare decision for yourself and your family," Hershkowitz said. "This amendment goes too far. Abortion is highly regulated and is incredibly safe in Tennessee."

However, Brown took exception to that statement. She said that voting yes on 1 would only mean that the Legislature would have the authority to make changes to abortion laws. Voting yes does not directly change any abortion laws, she said. The people's elected legislators would make any changes.

Previous rules

Tennessee's status as an out-of-state abortion provider began after the 2000 court ruling, Brown said. Before Planned Parenthood won its suit, the Tennessee Legislature provided protections for women such as informed consent. When a woman planned an abortion, the doctor was required to tell her about the baby's developmental stage, her pregnancy and her health history. The woman would take the information home and reflect on her decision for 48 hours before an abortion was performed. Late-term abortions were performed in a hospital.

But Planned Parenthood targeted Tennessee because she said the state had a "very liberal leaning Supreme Court. When they brought the suit against our pro-life protection, the Supreme Court decided Tennessee had a fundamental right to an abortion. The one word they built the whole case on was privacy. That found that word in our Constitution and decided we had a right to an abortion. Eight states around Tennessee continue to enforce those common-sense protections."


Hershkowitz said he agrees privacy is important.

"The (2000) ruling was not about the Supreme Court having power, it was about the people having the right to make their own decisions," he said.

Yes on 1 backers, who are bipartisan, have waited three years for the proposed constitutional amendment to come to a public vote, Brown said. The Legislature -- both Republicans and Democrats -- approved placing the proposal on the ballot, but constitutional amendments must be voted on during gubernatorial elections. If Yes on 1 does not pass, Brown said she believes it will be only a matter of time until Planned Parenthood sues Tennessee to force the use of taxpayer funds for abortions, as has happened in other states.

The amendment

The proposed amendment reads:

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.

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