Amendment to Tennessee Constitution Threatens Abortion Access 

If an amendment to the Tennessee Constitution is approved by voters in November, state legislators will have the ability to pass all manner of restrictions on abortion.

"They'll be able to pass a whole slew of regulations here, the same kind of regulations that are closing clinics all over the country," said Rebecca Terrell, executive director of Choices Memphis Center for Reproductive Health.

Those include 72-hour waiting periods between the initial doctor consultation and the procedure, mandated counseling that opponents of the amendment fear may include misleading information about abortion risks, and requiring that all second trimester abortions be performed in a hospital, among others.

"It's not a change in law. It's an amendment to our constitution. The language is flawed and dangerous and gives carte blanche to the legislature to ban abortion, even when a woman's health is in danger or if she is a victim of rape or incest," said Ashley Coffield, executive director of Planned Parenthood Greater Memphis Region, which launched a "Vote No on 1" campaign last week.

In 2000, the Tennessee Supreme Court found that a woman's right to a safe and legal abortion is part of a "fundamental right to privacy," making privacy rights in the state broader than those provided in Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 Supreme Court decision that ruled that 14th Amendment privacy protections extended to a woman's decision to have an abortion.

Because those privacy protections were found to be broader in Tennessee, that 2000 court decision meant several restrictions passed by the General Assembly in 1998, such as the aforementioned waiting periods and counseling, were unconstitutional. Now, if Amendment 1 passes in November, the legislature will have the ability to bring back those restrictions overturned by the court in 2000.

In the states surrounding Tennessee, similar regulations have closed many abortion clinics and patients from other states must travel to Tennessee for the procedure.

The proponents of changing the constitution to allow for abortion restrictions have launched an aggressive "Vote Yes on 1" campaign, and they're claiming Tennessee is the third most popular "destination for out-of-state abortions."

"Mississippi has one clinic, and they're trying to close that. Half the clinics in Louisiana are closing. Texas went from 64 clinics to six. Where are people supposed to go? The fact that we're still up and running and seeing patients in Tennessee drives them crazy," Terrell said.

Coffield says that even pro-lifers should be against changing the state constitution to limit privacy rights.

"Not all of us agree about abortion, but I think we can agree that we can't stand in another woman's shoes and make a difficult decision for her when she may be faced with a cancer diagnosis or a rape or an incest," Coffield said.

To fight the passage of Amendment 1, Planned Parenthood has hired a full-time community organizer in AFSCME Director Gail Tyree. She is organizing 13 community action teams to canvas and phone-bank for the "Vote No on 1" campaign prior to the November election.

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