Tennessee Senate Panel Passes Amendment to Limit Court Ruling on Abortion
by Steven Ertelt
March 12, 2009
Nashville, TN (LifeNews.com) — The pro-life community in Tennessee is trying again to get the state legislature to approve an amendment that would make the Tennessee Constitution abortion-neutral. The amendment is necessary because the Tennessee Supreme Court ruled 4-1 in 2000 that the state constitution allows unlimited abortions.
The ruling claimed the Tennessee Constitution contains a fundamental abortion right even broader than Roe v. Wade or the federal constitution.
The decision resulted in the striking down of numerous pro-life Tennessee laws that were helping women and limiting abortions.
On Wednesday, pro-life state Senator Diane Black succeeded in moving SJR 127 out of the senate Judiciary committee despite strong opposition from three Democrats, including Sens. Doug Jackson, Jim Kyle and Beverly Marrero.
Tennessee Right to Life told LifeNews.com that Black ultimately beat back repeated attempts by pro-abortion legislators to delay, weaken and distort the impact of the amendment.
"This matter is far too important to play politics with…. those who oppose it will try to change the focus of what this amendment is about," Black said.
She called the amendment a chance for the people to Tennessee, who would vote on it if the legislature approves it, to have their own say on the abortion issue.
"(But) step one is the adoption of SJR 127 which gets us back to neutral ground. Then the people, the people, will have a right to vote on it so that we can look at various protections that we can put back into our state law," she explained.
Pro-abortion Senators Kyle and Marrero voted against SJR 127 while Jackson ultimately abstained and the Senate Judiciary Committee moved the bill along with a 6-2 vote.
While the Senate measure moved ahead to the full chamber, pro-abortion Rep. Joe Armstrong gaveled to order a special-called public hearing of the full House Health committee.
There, pro-abortion Rep. Henry Fincher is attempting to pass a pro-abortion alternative to pro-life SJR 127.
Tennessee Right to Life says renowned pro-life attorney Paul Linton made the case for the pro-life side against the Fincher bill.
"Linton’s scholarly presentation was clearly one of the highlights of the hearing and at no time did pro-abortion supporters come close to matching his artful command of the constitutional and legal issues," the group said.
Meanwhile, abortion advocates wrongly called SJR 127 an attempt to ban abortions.
The House panel did not take a vote on the measure.
The constitutional amendment is needed to nullify the decision and allow the state to enact limits on abortion or ban abortions if Roe v. Wade is ever overturned.
In 2006, the full Senate signed off on the idea on a 24-9 vote but a House subcommittee killed the measure. In 2008, the same subcommittee, the House Public Health and Family Assistance Subcommittee defeated SJR-127 on a 6-3 vote as the Democratic-controlled panel has done before.
However, Republicans won control of the state House following the elections and observers say that makes it very likely both the House and Senate will approve the amendment.
A favorable vote for the amendment this year is just the beginning.
After getting a simple majority in the 2009-2010 session, lawmakers must then approve it by a two-thirds margin in the 2011-12 session and then voters would have a chance to consider it on the ballot in the 2014 election.
Tennessee Right to Life president Brian Harris says his group will not back down from getting the amendment approved.
"We have fought on the front lines for eight years to bring this matter to the public for an up or down vote," he said, and added that he is counting on the new Republican majority to follow through on its promise to pass the amendment.
"We are counting on them to keep their word," Harris said. "We are confident that they will."
A vote to approve the amendment would follow a poll showing most state residents either want all abortions illegal or want abortions limited to very few circumstances.
The latest Middle Tennessee State University poll finds almost 77 percent of state residents want more limits on abortions or abortions prohibited — which the amendment would allow.
The proposal says "nothing in this Constitution secures or protects a right to abortion or requires the funding of an abortion."
In 2003, 14,933 abortions were reported performed on women residing in Tennessee. In 2004, the number dropped to 13,902, a 6.9% decline or 1,031 fewer abortions.
Related web sites:
Tennessee Right to Life – https://tennesseerighttolife.org
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