Analysis

Tennessee defends state amendment and laws regulating abortion

At a recent Pro-life Women’s Day on the Hill in Nashville, Tennessee Right to Life gave the audience an update on the lawsuits being brought against the citizens of Tennessee by Tracey George, Board Chair of Planned Parenthood of Middle and East Tennessee.

Tennessee won a tremendous victory in November of 2014, when voters passed a constitutional amendment giving the legislature the right to pass regulations on abortion.  As I explained in a previous post, this action was necessary because the ACLU and Planned Parenthood sued the people of Tennessee in a lawsuit known as Planned Parenthood vs. Sundquist. They sued to remove three regulations around abortion that had been voted into place by bi-partisan legislators: informed consent, a 48-hour waiting period, and requiring later term abortions to be done in hospitals.  On September 15, 2000, the Tennessee Supreme Court ruled in favor by of the ACLU and Planned Parenthood, and with the ruling, a broad right to an abortion in our state Constitution was ‘discovered.’  This prevented any regulation from being enforced that could not pass a strict scrutiny standard.

Despite being heavily outspent by abortion advocates, the Amendment 1 passed by 57-43%.

In Tennessee, the bar for passing a constitutional amendment is quite high. The language of the amendment must be approved by both the state House and Senate by a simple majority, and then by a super majority (two-thirds). After this, it must be placed on the ballot in the next election in which a gubernatorial candidate is chosen. Finally, it has to pass by 50% plus one.

In the 2014 election, incumbent Governor Bill Haslam ( R ) easily defeated a political unknown, Charlie Brown, and an independent, John Jay Hooker. Three days after the election, Planned Parenthood of Middle and East Tennessee Board Chair Tracey George filed a lawsuit in federal court, seeking to throw out the election results for the amendment.  The reason for filing in federal court was clear. They were cherry picking a judge they felt would be favorable to their cause.  After several delays, the long -awaited court date occurred on April 7, 2016.

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A point of interest that is not lost on the pro-life community is that the method of counting votes in the 2014 elections passed four amendments.  One amendment concerned the election of judges, one on gambling and one on taxes.  However, note that only the one on abortion is being challenged.  (No one is concerned about gambling, election of judges, or taxes, but apparently, the industry that profits from killing of babies must not be impeded.)

By previous agreement, each side was given an hour to present their case and the state was ably represented by Deputy Attorney General Janet Kleinfelter, who presented a spirited defense of the state’s electoral process, relevant precedents and a clear historical basis for ratifying the pro-life Amendment. “The (pro-abortion) plaintiff’s case is based on speculation and conjecture,” said Kleinfelter. “There is no injury nor are rights violated in the state’s ratification of Amendment.”

After hearing oral arguments, Judge Sharp took the matter under advisement and gave no timeline for his decision. Following the filing of the lawsuit, the owner of an unlicensed abortion clinic filed his own lawsuit challenging the protections voted into place by the legislature following the passing of Amendment 1, putting these gains on hold pending court outcome.

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