Voters in North Dakota and Colorado overwhelmingly rejected personhood measures that would have stripped women of their constitutional rights by giving legal protections to fertilized eggs, but 53 percent of Tennesseans approved a measure that will potentially have equally devastating consequences for women in the state. Tennessee's Amendment 1 passed on Tuesday night, stripping the state constitution of language affirming a woman's right to privacy in making decisions about her pregnancy and giving lawmakers even more power to restrict abortion.
Here's the new language in the state constitution:
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.
Supporters of the measure claimed in the lead up to the election that it would simply make the constitution "neutral" on the issue of abortion, and it's a line many conservatives are still hold while discussing the amendment. David Fowler, a former state senator who introduced a version of the measure more than a decade ago, told Nashville Public Radio that he didn't view it as a blank check for anti-choice lawmakers to pass extreme legislation “because it would be rather self-defeating to pass an amendment, and then pass laws that can’t be enforced because they’re hung up in litigation.” (Not sure this is a memo that conservative lawmakers across the country have received, since the spaghetti-at-the-wall approach to limiting reproductive freedom seems to be the preferred method.)
But on Tuesday night, soon after the amendment was approved, newly elected Republican state Rep. Courtney Rogers told the Tennessean that she intended to support new restrictions when the General Assembly reconvenes in the new year. And the antiabortion groups that pushed hard for the amendment are already strategizing for the upcoming legislative session.
From the Tennessean:
Brian Harris, president of Tennessee Right to Life and a coordinator for the "Yes on 1" campaign, who has devoted much of the past 14 years fighting for the measure to get on the ballot.
Harris said his group's next step is returning to the legislature to persuade lawmakers to restore a package of laws stricken by a 2000 state Supreme Court decision, including requiring a [48-hour] waiting period for women seeking an abortion, a requirement to provide educational materials and greater regulation of abortion facilities.
Tennessee already has a number of abortion restrictions on the books. State law already prohibits health plans offered in the state’s health exchange under the Affordable Care Act from covering abortion, bans the use of telemedicine and limits the use of public funding for abortion to cases of rape, incest or life endangerment.
The consequences could be devastating for Tennesseans, but also for others from neighboring states. According to a 2010 survey, 1 in 4 women who receives an abortion in Tennessee is from out of state. That was before a wave of abortion restrictions dramatically remade the access map in the south, forcing even more women to cross state lines to access basic care. If Tennessee goes the way of Mississippi and Texas, it will only exacerbate the crisis of access already unfolding in the state and throughout the region.
“In a region already devastated by underhanded abortion restrictions, Tennessee has stood up for women by providing strong constitutional protections for their reproductive rights,” Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, said in a statement. “This constitutional amendment kicks open the door for Tennessee politicians to do what far too many of their neighboring colleagues have done over the last several years and run roughshod over women’s rights and health.”