Tenn. voters pass abortion, other amendments

newsroom@tri-statedefender.com | 11/5/2014, 10:47 a.m.

"I don't want to see somebody get in a situation where they're in a place that's not licensed or not regulated and end up having problems, because you're putting the mother's life at risk also," she said.

Williamson County voter Michael Thornton gave a similar reason for supporting the amendment.

"I voted yes because my wife is in the health care industry, and I just think it gives patient protection," he said.

Hedy Weinberg is executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee, a group that fought against the amendment. She issued a statement on Tuesday night saying that she was disappointed but also feels that the coalition of voters they have mobilized for the campaign will continue to grow.

"We know state legislators are poised to begin restricting access to comprehensive reproductive health care in Tennessee during the next legislative session. But we are prepared to mobilize against measures that serve only to create barriers to health care service," she said.

A statement from the Yes on 1 campaign attributed their victory, despite being outspent, to "a statewide grassroots campaign heavy on volunteers and smaller financial contributions from individuals, churches and pro-life organizations."

Brian Harris, president of Tennessee Right to Life and a coordinator with Yes on 1, said in a statement, "We are grateful to God and to the good people of Tennessee for this victory."

The win was 14 years in the making. The constitutional change was conceived in response to a 2000 Tennessee Supreme Court decision that held abortion was protected by the state constitution as part of a woman's fundamental right to privacy.

The amendment reads, "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."

Both supporters and opponents of the four constitutional changes expressed concerns that the language of amendments could confuse voters.

"My gosh, I'm very close to having my Ph.D. and it's very hard to read those things," Britnie Kane, a graduate student at Vanderbilt University's Peabody College, said after voting Tuesday.
Here's a look at the remaining three amendments:

JUDICIAL SELECTION: Voters approved a change that enshrines merit selection for appeals judges and Supreme Court justices while giving the Legislature some power over the process. Existing language in the state constitution says Supreme Court justices "shall be elected by the qualified voters of the state." But since 1994, they have been appointed by the governor, followed by yes-no retention votes. The amendment writes the current process into the constitution — with the addition of giving state lawmakers the power to reject gubernatorial appointments. Gov. Bill Haslam, who campaigned for the amendment, issued a statement saying its passage "brings clarity, certainty and accountability to the way we select our appellate court judges in Tennessee."

INCOME TAX BAN: Voters approved an amendment that would prohibit lawmakers from imposing a state income tax. State Sen. Brian Kelsey, a Germantown Republican, sponsored the resolution putting the amendment on the ballot. He has said the income tax ban will appeal to businesses and bring jobs to the state.

LOTTERY-VETERANS: Voters approved an amendment to allow charitable gaming fundraisers for veterans' groups. A 2002 constitutional amendment that created a state lottery for college scholarships dictated which groups could hold raffles and cakewalks, but veterans groups were left out.