How You Can Help Save Tennessee From Cutting Off Abortion Access

By Rachel Walden — October 10, 2014

As a lifelong Tennessean, I know it’s not the most friendly state when it comes to reproductive rights. And if a ballot initiative to curb abortion access passes this fall, it will get even worse.

On Nov. 4, voters will be asked to amend the state constitution by adding the following language:

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.

Tennessee’s Republicans have fought for this referendum, known as Amendment 1, since a 2000 court decision (Planned Parenthood v. Sundquist) concluded that some previously passed restrictions (such as mandatory waiting periods) violated the state constitution’s privacy protections. As a result, Tennesseans have been protected from some of the more egregious laws enacted in other states.

But that won’t be the case if the Amendment 1 passes.

“It will basically just open the floodgates for the General Assembly to pass any kind of restriction if the amendment passes,” Jeff Teague, the president of Planned Parenthood of Middle and East Tennessee, told Mother Jones. “We think they probably have a long list of things they’re going to pass.”

Supporters of the amendment have suggested that Tennessee’s current state constitution prevents them from passing any abortion restrictions, but this is not true. Since 2000, Tennessee has enacted a ban on telemedicine for abortion, and the state requires that doctors performing abortions have admitting privileges at a local hospital — measures that do nothing to protect the health safety of those seeking abortions, but do result in limiting access.

Passage of the amendment would clear the way for the state Legislature to enact even more restrictive laws, including measures to intimidate providers and patients (such as a previously proposed bill to publish information about providers), forced ultrasounds, mandated biased counseling, and other TRAP laws. With a heavily Republican General Assembly, these new restrictions would easily pass.

If you’re in Tennessee, volunteers are needed this weekend for early voting GOTV efforts. Calls to undecided voters are very important, and will continue up through election day. Sign up with the Vote No on 1 campaign to volunteer. Also, consider reaching out to neighbors through community organizations (churches, book clubs, etc.) to encourage more people to join the campaign.

If you’re not in Tennessee, you can still help out by spreading the word to bring attention to the issue, and donating to efforts to defeat the amendment.

From the FAQs of the Vote No on 1 campaign:

Amendment 1 is confusing. What would it actually do?

Today, a woman is left to make decisions about her health with input from her family, her faith and her doctor. Amendment 1 would put the power to make personal, private medical decisions in the hands of our government by allowing them full control to mandate abortion laws–without protections for victims of rape, incest, or cases where the health or life of the woman is in danger.

Does Amendment 1 make exceptions for cases of rape or incest, or when a woman’s life is in danger?

No. Part of what makes Amendment 1 so dangerous is that the language points out that we are handing over ALL decision making power to the government, WITHOUT exceptions for these terrible circumstances. You don’t have to be pro-choice to agree that women and families need the ability to make decisions themselves in tragic moments such as rape, incest or life-threatening disease. If you believe exceptions should be guaranteed, then vote “No” on Amendment 1.

I often hear Tennessee is an “abortion destination” for women from other states. Is Amendment 1 an effective way to stop this from happening?

No. Tennessee health centers are often the closest option for women and families who live in neighboring states. But Amendment 1 wouldn’t just cut off access for women out of state—it would restrict access for Tennessee families, too. Amendment 1 has nothing to do with stopping out of state women from coming to Tennessee for an abortion. Its true intent is to cut off access to abortion altogether. It just goes too far.

Note that the “abortion destination” argument has come up because Tennessee is bordered by eight different states. As a result, up to about a quarter of abortion patients in Tennessee come from out of state. As AP reporter Travis Loller writes:

But a closer review of the numbers makes it seem more likely that the women coming to Tennessee for abortions are the same women who come to Tennessee to shop, those living in small towns and suburbs near larger Tennessee border cities.

Of course, Tennessee isn’t the only state where ballot measures this fall could significantly affect abortion access. Colorado, Illinois, and North Dakota also have ballot initiatives in need of defeat.

Learn more about the Amendment 1 fight in Tennessee:

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