The state Senate voted Monday night to ask voters to amend the Tennessee constitution to strip away abortion rights, with supporters saying they want to put “common-sense” restrictions into the law.
The vote was 24-8 — the two-thirds majority needed with two votes to spare. If the House also approves the resolution by a super-majority this session, as seems all but certain, then the measure will go on the ballot for voters to decide in the 2014 elections.
Last year, the House voted by the stunning margin of 76-22 for SJR127, as the anti-abortion amendment to the state constitution is known, and that was before the 2010 elections that gave Republicans even firmer control of the legislature.
Even if voters agree to amend the constitution, abortion still would be legal in Tennessee as long as Roe v. Wade stands. But Sen. Mae Beavers, R-Mount Juliet, said the amendment is needed to give the legislature “the right to enact reasonable protections for women’s health and the unborn” such as a 24- or 48-hour waiting period before an abortion can be performed.
“The only way to restore protections is to change the constitution and give the legislature the authority to write common-sense laws,” Beavers told the Senate. “This matter is too important to play politics. Those who oppose it will try to muddy the water and change the focus of what this amendment is all about. This will get us back to neutral ground. Then the people will have the right to vote on it so we can look at the various protections that can be put into law.”
The Senate voted down amendments by Sen. Roy Herron, D-Dresden, to allow for abortions in the case of rape or incest or to save the life of the mother.
“It will be my intent to vote for SJR127 but only if we protect the women whose lives are in danger and only if we protect the women who are victims of rape or incest,” Herron said.
Recognizing any resistance was futile, pro-choice Democrats didn’t put much of a fight. Sen. Beverly Marrero, D-Memphis, kept it short: “I do represent women who are pro-choice in Tennessee. Women should have a right to make decisions about their own body.”