As Tennesseans head to the polls in the Nov. 4 election, they will have the opportunity to vote on whether the state legislature should have the ability to regulate abortions.
Amendment 1 proposes that Article I of the Tennessee Constitution be amended by adding the following language: “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.”
If enacted, the amendment would make the Tennessee Constitution the first to contain specific language relating to abortion.
According to those who oppose the amendment, it will allow politicians to make decisions that ought to be made by a woman and her physician and strip women of the established right to an abortion.
According to supporters of the amendment, this will make abortion a neutral issue in the state, putting decisions in the hands of citizens and legislators.
Union University held a forum Oct. 14 on the amendment, at which U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn, Dr. Steve Hammond and Jennifer Hicks, spokeswoman for Tennessee Right to Life, advocated for Amendment 1.
A day later, Samuel W. “Dub” Oliver, university president, published an opinion piece in the Jackson Sun, urging voters to “vote yes on 1.”
“God sets before us life and death, and allows us to choose,” Oliver wrote. “I choose life. If you choose life, vote yes on 1.”
The amendment was proposed after certain measures restricting abortion were approved by lawmakers and then struck down by the state Supreme Court. Those measures included mandatory waiting periods, the required distribution of materials about fetal development and that second-trimester abortions be performed in hospitals, according to a Sept. 28 article in the Tennessean.
The Supreme Court ruled that such measures violated a woman’s right to privacy.
“It is just critical that Tennesseans, regardless of their own position on abortion, vote yes to restore to the people of Tennessee the opportunity for Tennesseans to debate and decide what we think our public policies ought to be on life and on abortion,” said Brian Harris, president of Tennessee Right to Life.
Harris said under current law, Tennesseans do not have a voice on the regulation of abortion. If the amendment passes, he said Tennessee Right to Life will work for the restoration of the laws that were struck down.
Steven Hershkowitz, communications director for the Vote No on ONE campaign, said those behind the amendment want the power to cut off access to abortion, making no exceptions for cases such as illness and rape.
If a woman was diagnosed with cancer during a pregnancy, she may no longer be able to choose for herself whether to seek treatment and end the pregnancy or go forward with the pregnancy without pursuing treatment, he said.
“These are personal, private decisions that the government would then be stepping in on should the amendment pass,” Hershkowitz said. “… Amendment 1 is a historically dangerous amendment. It’s one of these rare times that a state puts up a constitutional amendment that would take away an established right from the people of the state.”
Harris said the amendment will help stop Tennessee from being an abortion destination.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2010 nearly 25 percent of abortions attained in Tennessee were from out-of-state women. This makes Tennessee the third largest destination for out-of-state abortions.
At Union, members of student organizations Life139 and College Republicans have joined the campaign to vote “YES on 1.”
“What a lot of people believe is that it’s going to make [abortion] illegal,” said Melissa Locke, co-president of Life139. “That’s not true. It’s going to make abortion neutral, state neutral, so that it can be better regulated.”
Locke said many support the amendment but still need encouragement to go out and vote.
“You can be as pro-life as you want, but unless you’re active in doing something, it’s not going to make a difference,” Locke said.
At Tennessee State University in Nashville, Courtney Mickens, Editor-in-Chief of The Meter, the student newspaper, wrote an editorial advocating against the amendment.
“Lawmakers are going to put the health of a woman in the hands of politicians,” Mickens wrote. “No more abortion, no more birth control, no nothing.”
She also urged students to vote on Nov. 4, albeit against the amendment.
“As for the women, vote like your life depends on it,” she wrote.