High Court upholds Tenn. pro-life constitution change

WASHINGTON (BP) -- The U.S. Supreme Court rejected a challenge to Tennessee's Amendment 1 Monday (Oct. 1) by refusing to review a decision upholding the pro-life measure.

On the first day of its new term, the high court announced it would not review a Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals opinion that sided with the state in a lawsuit against the amendment, which removed a right to abortion and a requirement for abortion funding from the Tennessee constitution. Opponents challenged the 2014 initiative approved by Tennessee voters on the basis of the way election officials counted ballots, not on the basis of a right to abortion.

Southern Baptist ethicist Russell Moore said the justices "made the right decision."

"The abortion industry wages war against protections for the unborn because what they want is an unregulated Wild West of abortion in Tennessee, useful to pad their bottom line," said Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. "The people of Tennessee, however, voted to make sure the state would be a haven for unborn children, not a destination for death."

Moore said he is glad that "the abortion lobby was unsuccessful in seeking to override the will of the people.

"And I'm glad to see the Supreme Court rule in favor of protections for the unborn," he told Baptist Press in written comments.

At the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board, which strongly backed Amendment 1, the board's president, Randy C. Davis, praised the Supreme Court action.

"In 2014 Tennessee Baptists were front and center fighting for the adoption of Amendment 1," Davis told the Baptist and Reflector, the TBMB's newspaper.

"I've never been prouder of our pastors, laypeople and directors of missions working so hard to see that vitally important change to our state constitution," he said Oct. 1. "It was a great victory for the unborn in 2014 and today's news from the U.S. Supreme Court is another victory for the unborn.

"We must be vigilant to ensure that common sense laws are put into place in Tennessee to reflect that our state values every life," Davis said.

Tennesseans approved the amendment in a 53-47 percent vote in November 2014, but foes quickly filed suit. Among those challenging the election result was Tracey George, board chair of Planned Parenthood of Middle and East Tennessee at that time.

The lawsuit challenged the way election officials interpreted a section of the state constitution that says a ballot measure succeeds if it is approved "by a majority of all the citizens of the state voting for governor, voting in their favor," BP reported when the suit was filed.

In their challenge, the plaintiffs said the provision means votes for an amendment count only if those supporting it also voted for governor, according to the Nashville newspaper The Tennessean. Election officials, however, said the state never has counted ballots that way, The Tennessean reported. Some supporters of Amendment 1 encouraged voters to abstain from voting in the governor's race to enhance the initiative's chance of passage, according to the report. Nearly 33,000 more votes were cast in amendment balloting than in the governor's race, BP reported at the time.

A federal judge called for a recount in 2016, but the Sixth Circuit Court in Cincinnati, ruled in favor of the state in January of this year, resulting in the appeal to the Supreme Court by amendment opponents.

The effort to pass the amendment followed a decision by the Tennessee Supreme Court in 2000 that struck down state restrictions on abortion and ruled the state constitution provided stronger protections for abortion rights than the U.S. Constitution, The Tennessean reported. In the wake of the ruling, an analysis by the newspaper showed more than 25 percent of abortions sought in the state were from women who lived in states where abortion restrictions were in effect.

Tennessee legislators have still found difficulty in approving abortion restrictions that survive legal challenges, according to The Tennessean. A federal court is weighing a challenge to a 48-hour waiting period enacted in 2015, the newspaper reported.

Brian Harris, president of Tennessee Right to Life, described the Supreme Court's action as a "cause for great celebration among Tennessee's pro-life movement."

"The people's voices have been heard and their votes have been counted," Harris said in a written statement. "Now we have to continue to work for the day when every life is again protected by the laws of our state and nation."

Francie Hunt, executive director of Tennessee Advocates for Planned Parenthood, meanwhile described the amendment as "another attack on women's rights and the ability of individuals to make personal decisions for themselves," according to The Tennessean.

Amendment 1 says: "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."

Tom Strode is the Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press, news service of the Southern Baptist Convention.
SIGNED UP FOR OUR NEWSLETTER? Get Baptist Press in your email by subscribing to our daily newsletter at bpnews.net/SubscribeBP.
Download Story