Greater Government Control Over Abortions Conceived in Proposed Legislation

With the endorsement of Amendment 1 by 728,751 Tennessee voters on Tuesday, the state’s General Assembly was given authority to expand its regulatory power over abortion providers.

Amendment 1 needed about 676,306 votes to pass, in keeping with current interpretations of the state Constitution’s declaration that proposed changes be ratified “by a majority of all the citizens of the state voting for governor.”

Amendment 1 received 53 percent of votes in favor and 47 percent opposed. The Tennessee Constitution now declares that it doesn’t protect the right to an abortion, nor does it require that taxpayers fund them. The amendment was first proposed in the 2001 legislative session following a 2000 state Supreme Court ruling that declared the state Constitution contained an implied “protection of an individual’s right to make inherently personal decisions, and to act on those decisions, without government interference,” which could be extended to a woman controlling the decision to terminate a pregnancy free of state intrusion.

It appears now that the state’s Republican supermajority-led Legislature is ready to initiate a new era of interference in those “inherently personal decisions.” GOP lawmakers have announced specific plans to to start growing the size of government to fill their enlarged legislative role, which for many years GOP politicians and state party activists have been agitating to take on.

Lawmakers from both chambers of the Tennessee Legislature expect abortion to be big in January.

“We heard loud and clear from the people of Tennessee they want common sense inspection on abortion clinics, and so you’ll see one or two bills related to the regulation and the oversight of abortion and inspection of clinics, making sure they meet basic health standards,” state Rep. Glen Casada, House GOP Caucus chairman from the past session, told TNReport Wednesday.

State Sen. Mike Bell, chairman of the Senate Government Operations Committee last session, said he anticipates “a flurry of bills filed to enact similar regulations to what other states around us have done.”

And Republican Speaker of the Tennessee House Beth Harwell announced Wednesday she was filing three measures aimed at putting in place “common sense regulations” for abortion clinics. That legislation includes a mandatory waiting period for abortions, inspection requirements for any facility where an abortion is performed and mandatory counseling for abortion-seeking women.

“The citizens have said they want us to examine our abortion laws and see what appropriate action needs to be taken, and I believe the legislature will look for some common sense regulations that ensure that abortion is a safe procedure in our state,” Harwell told the Tennessean.

Harwell’s legislation is also supported by the Family Action Council of Tennessee, a family-values advocacy group. Its president, David Fowler is a former state senator who initially hatched the amendment language in 2001.

In a statement issued by the organization, Fowler said the passage of the amendment was “a great victory for the people of Tennessee, who have reclaimed from our state Supreme Court their right to have a voice on abortion policy in our state. It is a victory for a government of and by and for the people, and a victory for the protection of women and their unborn.”

But Fowler also told the Times Free Press Wednesday that he hopes the Legislature somewhat tempers its desire to regulate abortions, and only passes legislation modeled “after laws we are confident are not subject to being challenged.”

While Republican legislators and right-to-life advocates seem to have taken the majority approval of the amendment as a mandate from Tennesseans to enact stricter regulations on those seeking abortions in the Volunteer State, Amendment 1 received less affirmative votes, and had a smaller margin of victory, than any of the four proposed amendments.

According to the state’s unofficial election results, little more than half of Tuesday’s voters, 53 percent, voted in favor of Amendment 1. However, Amendment 2, which installed the “Tennessee Plan” as the official constitutional process for judicial selection, received 61 percent approval; Amendment 3, which bans any governing body in the state from imposing an income tax on its constituents, received 66 percent approval; and Amendment 4, which allows veterans groups to hold lotteries and games of chance for fundraising, received 70 percent voter approval.

But with 73 Republicans and 26 Democrats in the House and 28 and 5 respectively in the Senate, it doesn’t seem likely that there will be much in the way of legislative opposition from abortion-rights advocates.

A call to House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh for comment on the Amendment’s passage, as well as to see if the Democratic Caucus has any plans for attempting to drum up opposition to the legislation, was not returned late Thursday.

But state Rep. Sherry Jones, a Nashville Democrat, told the Tennessean Wednesday that with Republicans in firm control of the legislature, anything a member of the party “brings up to change the way women make their healthcare decisions will pass.”