During the last few decades of the 20th century, the Tennessee Legislature passed a series of sensible laws regulating abortion, including waiting period and informed consent laws, creating an environment where innocent human life was protected as much as legally possible.
That environment changed dramatically in the year 2000 when the Tennessee state Supreme Court “found” a broader right to abortion in the state constitution than exists in the U.S. Constitution.
Plainly stated, the effect of the Court’s holding…is to remove from the people all power, except by constitutional amendment, to enact reasonable regulations of abortion. -Justice Mickey BarkerAs a consequence of this decision, our state’s informed consent law was struck down as well as our law that required women to wait 48 hours from the time they were informed to the time they had the abortion. In addition, the Court struck down the requirement that riskier later-term abortions be performed in a hospital.
The decision sent shock waves through the state’s pro-life community. In effect, the Court’s ruling said that there can be no restriction on abortion in Tennessee, no matter what the people want.
Justice Mickey Barker, who dissented from the Court’s decision, said, “Plainly stated, the effect of the Court’s holding today is to remove from the people all power, except by constitutional amendment, to enact reasonable regulations of abortion.”
In addition, in the spring of 2008, the state’s Attorney General issued a formal opinion stating that a ban on partial-birth abortion, using the same language approved by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2007, would be “constitutionally suspect” under Tennessee’s Constitution.
As a result of our state Supreme Court’s ruling, Roe v. Wade could be reversed by the U.S. Supreme Court tomorrow, yet abortion would still be a constitutional right in Tennessee under our state constitution.
“…except by constitutional amendment…”
In response to the Court’s overreaching action, state legislators finally adopted Senate Joint Resolution 127 (SJR 127). This resolution will allow Tennesseans to vote in 2014 to amend the state constitution to again make it “neutral” on abortion while still subject to the abortion rights rulings of the U.S. Supreme Court.
To get the whole story, click here to download our brochure “The Facts About Abortion in Tennessee”. You can also download a special whitepaper on SJR-127 and abortion law in Tennessee with more details and documentation.
The proposed amendment, if approved by Tennessee voters, would once again make the state’s Constitution neutral on the issue of abortion, giving the legislature greater ability to enact abortion policy. The language of SJR 127 is as follows:
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 circumstances of pregnancy resulting from rape or incest or when necessary to save the life of the mother.
Frequently Asked Questions about SJR 127
Why doesn’t SJR 127 provide an exception for abortions in the case of rape or incest or where necessary to save the life of the mother?
The question implies that an “exception” is needed because SJR 127 bans abortion. SJR 127, by its very language, does not ban abortions. It merely says that our state constitution does not provide a right to abortion. It essentially makes the constitution neutral on the subject of abortion.
Does SJR 127 ban abortions?
No, it only puts the Constitution back where it was before the Court changed it, making it neutral on the issue of abortion.
Has Tennessee ever banned all abortions?
No. Never. Not even the first statute on the subject passed in late 1800’s banned all abortions.
If SJR 127 is passed and then Roe v. Wade is overturned, would abortions be illegal in Tennessee?
No. Current law which makes abortion legal during all nine months of a pregnancy would be the law unless a change is approved by a majority of both the House and Senate and approved by the Governor.
If SJR 127 contains language saying that a woman has a right to abortion in the case of rape or incest would that not prohibit the General Assembly from taking any action in regard to those situations?
No. The legislature can enact legislation that will define when those exceptions come into play. The real question is whether courts or legislative bodies should decide these kind of policy questions.
What if the General Assembly were ever in the future to thwart the will of the people in regard to abortion policy?
This question assumes that only the legislature, and not the Supreme Court, can thwart the will of the people. By protecting partial-birth abortion, it is clear that this assumption is wrong as partial-birth abortion is not favored by a clear majority of Tennesseans. And further, no one can run for election against an appointed Supreme Court judge if he votes to thwart the will of the people. Thus the people are essentially without any effective remedy if abortion policy is left in hands of Judges.