Tennessee Senate OKs Amendment to Limit Court on Abortion

State   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Apr 19, 2011   |   12:05PM   |   Nashville, TN

The Tennessee state Senate has approved again an amendment pro-life groups are fighting for to limit the reach of a pro-abortion state Supreme Court ruling preventing the passage of any legislation limiting abortions.

The amendment is necessary because the Tennessee Supreme Court ruled 4-1 in 2000 that the state constitution allows unlimited abortions. It is necessary, pro-life advocates say, to be able to pass laws to limit and reduce abortions. The ruling claimed the Tennessee Constitution contains a fundamental abortion right even broader than Roe v. Wade or the federal constitution and it resulted in the striking down of numerous pro-life Tennessee laws that were helping women and limiting abortions.

Just as they did in 2001, 2004, 2006, 2008 and 2009, members of Tennessee’s state Senate overwhelmingly passed SJR 127, a resolution allowing Tennessee residents to undo the ruling that Tennessee Right to Life says established a so-called ‘right to abortion’ in the Tennessee Constitution.

If passed by the Tennessee state House and state Senate this session, SJR 127 would be placed on the ballot for approval by Tennesseans during the next gubernatorial election in 2014. Proposed amendments in Tennessee must be passed by two consecutive general assemblies, the second time by a two-thirds supermajority.

“Tennessee’s pro-life senators, led by Senator Mae Beavers, deserve great credit for staying the course and keeping the focus for more than a decade on restoring common sense protections which were stripped away by activist state court judges,” Brain Harris, the TRTL president, told LifeNews.com. “Tennessee is a pro-life state and it’s only appropriate that the people of Tennessee—not a handful of judges—decide what protections will be enacted for women and children in our state.”

Harris said the 2000 ruling in Planned Parenthood of Middle Tennessee v. Sundquist made it so “common sense protections were immediately stripped from state law books including informed consent for women considering abortion, a 48 hour waiting period and a requirement that second and third trimester abortions be performed in regulated hospitals rather than out-patient abortion facilities.” [related]

Subsequently the 2000 ruling was also used as precedent to strike state law requiring the inspection, regulation and licensure of abortion facilities in Tennessee, he explained. All of those pro-life protections — which have reduced abortions in some states by as much as 50 percent — could be restored if the amendment is approved.

The resolution now moves to the state House where 66 of 99 votes are needed in order to place SJR 127 on the ballot in 2014.  State Representatives passed the resolution in 2009 by a vote of 77-21 when a simple majority was required and the 2010 elections added more pro-life advocates to the legislature.

The text of 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.”

After the defeat of longtime pro-abortion House leadership in 2009, the resolution received its first approval by large majorities of 77-21 in the state House and 24-8 in the state Senate.

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.

Senators voting in support of SJR 127 include (21):

Beavers, Bell, Campfield, Crowe, Faulk, Gresham, Henry, Johnson, Kelsey, Ketron, McNally, Norris, Overbey, Roberts, Southerland, Summerville, Tracy, Watson, Woodson, Yager and Lt. Governor Ramsey

Senators voting consistently pro-abortion (8):

Barnes, Berke, Ford, Harper, Haynes, Herron, Marrero, and Tate

Senators voting first for hostile pro-abortion amendments but ultimately voting in support of SJR 127 (3):

Burks, Finney, and Stewart

Senators not present (1): Kyle