Republicans seek constitutional amendment to limit abortions in Tennessee

Sunday, April 24, 2011 at 10:05pm
Ron Ramsey 

After a decade-long struggle when it seemed at times like a lost cause, the seminal goal of Tennessee’s social conservatives — a pro-life amendment to the state constitution — is about to emerge from the legislature with a super-majority of supporters.

The resolution, so familiar to political insiders that it’s known by its legislative file number — SJR127 — was trapped for years in the House committee system under Democratic rule. Now, with Republicans in unassailable control of state government after last year’s elections, it is winning overwhelming backing, and even many Democrats are jumping on the bandwagon. 

The state Senate voted 24-8 last week for SJR127. With pro-choice Democrats realizing resistance was futile, there was only 30 minutes of debate. Four Democrats — including Nashville’s Sen. Douglas Henry, a longtime foe of abortion rights — joined Republicans in voting yes. If the House also approves the resolution by a two-thirds majority this session — as seems all but certain since SJR127 won 76 votes in the 99-member House even last year before the landslide elections — then the measure will go on the ballot for voters to decide in the 2014 elections. 

If voters agree to amend the state constitution, abortion still would be legal in Tennessee as long as Roe v. Wade stands as the law of the land. But SJR127 would strip abortion rights from the state constitution, nullifying a 2000 Tennessee Supreme Court ruling that struck down certain abortion restrictions in state law and outraged those in the pro-life movement. It would open the door to new and ever-more restrictive state laws, and pro-life lawmakers likely would push the envelope to test how far the courts would permit the state to go in limiting federal abortion rights. 

Pro-lifers celebrated Senate passage by bashing what they called the state’s liberal-activist judiciary and promising to enact only “commonsense” abortion laws if voters agree to amend the state constitution. 

“This resolution was a long time coming,” said Sen. Mae Beavers, the Mt. Juliet Republican who is sponsoring SJR127. “I am very pleased it has finally passed. It will enable Tennessee to begin the process to restore the right of the people to decide through their elected legislature regarding what Tennessee law should be regarding abortions within the bounds of federal court decisions. The only way to restore the people’s voice is to change the constitution and give the legislature authority to write commonsense laws.”

Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey said, “For years, liberal Democratic parliamentary maneuvering has thwarted passage of this resolution, which has enjoyed strong support from majorities both inside and outside the legislature. I am proud to be a part of the pro-life Republican majority that will finally bring an end to judicial activist usurpation and put this measure to a vote of the people.” 

The state Supreme Court ruling that spawned SJR127 was Planned Parenthood v. Sundquist. In a 4-1 decision, the justices found the Tennessee constitution contains a stronger right to privacy — and thus to abortion — than does the U.S. Constitution.

It was the first time the court addressed the abortion issue squarely. In its analysis, the court traced its expanding view of liberty in the state constitution — in cases beginning with the father’s right to destroy the seven frozen embryos created with his ex-wife and including the right of consenting adults to engage in homosexual relations. A logical extension, the justices decided, is a woman’s right to terminate her pregnancy.

“The provisions of the Tennessee constitution imply protection of an individual’s right to make inherently personal decisions, and to act on those decisions, without government interference,” the court ruled. 

“A woman’s termination of her pregnancy is just such an inherently intimate and personal enterprise. This privacy interest is closely aligned with matters of marriage, child rearing, and other procreational interests that have previously been held to be fundamental. To distinguish it as somehow non-fundamental would require this court to ignore the obvious corollary.” 

The court struck down three restrictions on abortion that had been enacted by the legislature: a 48-hour waiting period, so-called informed consent by the woman, and a requirement that all abortions in the second trimester be performed in hospitals rather than outpatient clinics. 

The proposed constitutional amendment states: “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.”

Pro-life lawmakers insist they don’t intend to try to outlaw abortions. Instead, they say they would merely make the Tennessee Constitution neutral on the issue and allow the legislature to enact restrictions they say are favored by most of the public.

But pro-choice organizations say stopping abortions is the ultimate goal. They predict that once the state constitution is amended, lawmakers will move immediately to enact a slew of unreasonable impediments to abortions. 

“What they really want to do is make it nearly impossible for women to access abortion,” said Jeff Teague, president of Planned Parenthood of Middle and East Tennessee.

He pointed to other states with Republican legislative majorities where abortion restrictions are at the top of the agendas. Included are “informed consent” bills that create a script that physicians are required to read to women seeking abortions. In Indiana, the bill originally required doctors to tell women that abortions cause breast cancer.

“These scripts are full of misleading and false information,” Teague said, adding that a bill in another state would force physicians to tell women that abortions lead to mental illness.

In Indiana, Oklahoma and elsewhere, legislatures have considered bills stating that a “20-week-old fetus is capable of feeling pain,” and therefore any abortion beyond that time would be outlawed. The time of fetal viability generally is considered to be 24 weeks, which is when abortions become illegal in most states. In Tennessee, abortions are allowed until the time of fetal viability.

Tennessee lawmakers in the past have proposed forcing women to look at ultrasound pictures of their fetuses before having abortions. Sen. Stacey Campfield, R-Knoxville, has introduced legislation in previous sessions to force women who have abortions to obtain death certificates for the fetuses.

Members of the pro-life movement are confident voters will agree to amend the constitution. But opinion polls suggest the outcome is uncertain. In 2009, the last time the MTSU poll asked questions about abortion, 52 percent of Tennesseans said abortion should remain legal under the circumstances in which it is now allowed.  

18 Comments on this post:

By: Kosh III on 4/25/11 at 5:53

Yes yes yes!

I am so glad to see the Republicans fulfulling their campaign promises to be focused like a laser on job creation.

By: Antisocialite on 4/25/11 at 7:07

Roe vs. Wade will continue to stand at the federal level, and this amendment will only serve to open Tennessee up to the possibility of costly and completely avoidable lawsuits.

Great idea!

By: Loner on 4/25/11 at 7:27

So, if abortion is anethema to Mae Beavers and the TN Tea Party-GOP, one wonders how and why Mae Beavers and the others sit in silence as the US gives Israel 3 billion dollars annually - as an entitlement - while Israeli abortion mills terminate tens of thousands of Israeli pregnancies every year. Mae Beavers says nothing about this, why not?

One might conclude that maybe these Christians just hate Jews and wish they were all terminated before birth..... But no, Mae Beavers and the Tea Baggers are really big fans of the Jewish State in Palestine....go figure.

Menopausal, dried-out women like Mae Beavers are in no danger of becoming pregnant, hence her bold embrace of this male-originated restriction of women's won't apply to her own body, so she can afford to side with the oppressive males on this woman's issue. ...Macho Mae could be a candidate for transgendering surgery?

By: treehugger7 on 4/25/11 at 7:29

At least the lawyers won't be focus on something important to the 99% of the people, instead of this crap!

By: Loner on 4/25/11 at 7:44

This truly is crap, Treehugger.

With every grandstanding piece of crap legislation that the Tea Baggers ram through, the rest of the nation sees Tennessee rise ever-closer to the top of the hate heap...move over Alabama, here come the Coonskin-capped Tea Baggers, of the great state of Tennessee....(Cue: "Deliverance" theme music)

And they are building a world-class Convention Center? Other than the Klan and the Tea-Baggers, who do they think will want to come to Tennessee for their get-togethers?

The bigoted theocrats might want to congregate in the Volunteer State, perhaps that is the target market for the Convention Center. Colorado already has cornered that market.

The skinheads and neo-nazis might find TN more alluring than can try to attract that demographic, as their is already a strong base here, as evidenced by these asinine legal moves.

What's next for the Tea-Baggers of TN? I suspect that the shit-stained Stars & Bars will be unfurled and saluted soon...the timing is about right.

By: Loner on 4/25/11 at 7:47

Homophone error!
Correction - "as their is already a strong base here" S/H/B: "as there is already a strong base here"

Mea culpa.

By: pswindle on 4/25/11 at 8:32

Why is the GOP so against women? The white men of the republican party will not be happy until all women are 2nd class citizens. I want to know how Mae Beavers fooled the people of her distsrict and got herslf elected? I truly want her out of my personal life.

By: Ingleweird on 4/25/11 at 9:35

Please do not give the TN legislature credit for the Music City Center. This is being financed by the city of Nashville through hotel taxes on visitors within Nashville. The state has no financial stake or contribution whatsoever on this project. The citizens of Nashville and Davidson County are a great deal more worldly, and less provincial, than the majority of TN residents and TGA members. If anything, the TGA is screwing up OUR (Nashville's) investment and OUR future, but then again, why would they give a rat's a$$ if it makes those durnd libruls look dumb?

By: shef2 on 4/25/11 at 1:38

First of all, I am so glad I'm too old to worry about getting pregnant-!
The individual woman should be able to make the difficult decision on whether or not to terminate her pregnancy. No matter what that reason is...
It is her body, and her responsibility, not anyone else's.
State Representatives and Senators have no business in making these decisions.

By: Gary Lampman on 4/25/11 at 6:51

If the whimpy Republican males want to out Law abortions ,than by all means do so. However, seeing that Republicans want to go into the bedrooms and tell people what they should do and Believe. Then Republicans and their churches should adopt all of the unwanted children of Rape,Incest, and when a mother has to die because of their shallow belief system. That leaves spouses without any choices.

Seriously ; Big mouth Bible spouting Republicans need to adopt the worst of the worst of those unwanted children. No...;cherry picking which ones you love and raise. No!..... State foster Homes either!!! You want to cry about those unwanted children , than take them as your own! Care for them as your own and don't expect any welfare checks for the additional Burdens!
Republicans put your wallets and life finances behind all that you superficially claim is important to you! Stand up and adopt crack babies, children with Birth defects , and some of the hidiously dieased Babies . Stop Acting as the moral majority and become the moralist of action. Talk is cheep.

Our States have more than their fair share of unwanted Babies and this Congress has Done NOTHING to find homes for those whom are living within the State system.

The opinion is that the meddling republicans have no place in my home and if they think they are above reproach than think again! Still I think Republicans are just bullies who would never step up on their own . The Pharisees and the Saducees of the modern age,

By: Moonglow1 on 4/25/11 at 9:49

Moonglow1; Republican Theo-Tea people are so obsessed with sexual issues. Yet they are always philandering and when caught they cry like the little babies they are. For example there is Gingrich, Vittner, and Sanford. They all go to their "prayer breakfast" to beg for forgiveness. What a hoot!! Now they want to control women. The Tennessee Republican party is the Tennessee Taliban. And we are so lucky to be represented by Beavers & Butts. How appropriate.

By: govskeptic on 4/26/11 at 5:58

Beam me up Moonglow1, 2, or 3. These postings are such rants that are
off the wall that we've all become nervous of the ill intent!

By: pswindle on 4/26/11 at 9:08

Ron Ramsey could be our Governor, that is a scary thougth.

By: mg357 on 4/26/11 at 10:26

This seems to be a very controversial subject in the news nationwide. It all centers around the cuts of funding to Planned Parenthood that reportedly in every news source available, subsidizes abortion on demand with public money. They have been called the nation's largest abortion provider despite the fact that the Hyde Amendment expressly prohibits such use of taxpayer funds.According to ABC news, 90% of what planned parenthood does is abortions. Don't take my word; do your own research and get back to

By: gdiafante on 4/26/11 at 11:34

"According to ABC news, 90% of what planned parenthood does is abortions."

That would be in direct contradiction with this story that states it's a small fraction.

It states, Abortions account for only a small fraction of the services provided by Planned Parenthood — mainly providing contraception, screening for cancer and testing for sexually transmitted diseases. .

By: yogiman on 4/26/11 at 2:09


I agree with you on the fact everyone should live their own lives. But government seems to have illusion they are the common citizens parents and they know best what is good for us.

A well known fact is how a woman get impregnated, and in today's rate knowledge of the many facts of life, there are many easy, simple ways to avoid it and I don't believe there is such a thing as an unavoidable, accidental pregnancy.

By: mg357 on 4/26/11 at 4:48

gd; let me clarify my post. Sen. Jon Kyle R-Ariz. made this statement in an article dated Apr.8, 2011. Depending on your position in this situation, either way there must be evidence that public funds are used for abortions provided by planned parenthood. Hasn't Indiana stopped funding already and isn't Kansas considering the same action? I think the point is that tax dollars cannot be used to fund abortion on demand. I saw this same game plan in DC where public funds are used for abortion in defiance of federal mandates against this. 61% of the women using this program are uninsured. Since these are TitleX funds along with Medicaid {taxpayer/free} dollars; why aren't the funds cut off if in fact the abortion theory is true and hold the clinics liable for being in violation of federal laws? What say

By: Moonglow1 on 4/26/11 at 11:12

Moonglow1 to Govskeptic. My postings reflect the absurdity of the tea party movement in this state and the laws they are passing which are in direct opposition to the mainstream public. Don't blame me for the ridiculous & off the wall comments made by our legislators.