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Tennessean pro-lifers rally in support of Amendment 1.
Fr. Mark Hodges Fr. Mark Hodges

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‘Resounding victory’: Tennessee pro-life amendment upheld by appeals court

Fr. Mark Hodges Fr. Mark Hodges

NASHVILLE, Tennessee, January 12, 2018 (LifeSiteNews) – A hard-fought pro-life battle spanning sixteen-years has resulted in a federal appeals court handing pro-life advocates a victory by upholding an amendment to Tennessee’s state Constitution allowing limitations on abortion.

The U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously rejected a pro-abortion attempt to overturn the 2014 pro-life statewide ballot results passing Amendment 1, which 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 or 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.

The Tennessean reports that the amendment “was the most hotly contested and most expensive Tennessee ballot measure in recent years – one that brought an unprecedented level of voter organizing, phone banking and attention from national groups on both sides of the abortion issue.”

The Circuit Court Justices overruled District Court Judge Kevin Sharp’s 2016 order for a recount of the successful amendment vote.

Tennessee Right to Life (TRTL) is calling it a “resounding victory” and expressed “profound gratitude” to pro-lifers who worked for years to get Amendment 1 on the ballot and passed.

“The voices of Tennessee’s voters have been heard and, as a result, public policy decisions on the matter of abortion can be rightly debated and determined by the people’s representatives,” TRTL President Brian Harris said in a statement.

TRTL explained the need for the amendment came when in 2000 the Tennessee Supreme Court declared abortion a “fundamental right” in the state Constitution “thereby making enforcement of common-sense protections impossible in Tennessee.”

The Tennessee Supreme Court struck down popular pro-life laws in 2000. Like the U.S. Supreme Court unilaterally legalized abortion by fiat in Roe v Wade, the state’s highest court ruled in Planned Parenthood v. Sundquist that the constitution prohibits abortion restrictions.  Acton Institute’s Rev. Ben Johnson called it “a case of judicial activism.”  

As a direct result, Tennessee became the most liberal abortion state in the region. “Since the extremely liberal state Supreme Court ruled in 2000 that the state of Tennessee cannot put any regulations on abortion, Tennessee has become an abortion procedure destination,” reality TV star Michelle Duggar said. Over three thousand out-of-state women come to Tennessee to abort every year.

Dr. Brent Boles explained that the state Supreme Court “virtually ended all abortion restrictions,” including informed consent laws and waiting periods.  

“As a result of that decision, the owner of two abortion clinics successfully prevented the state from inspecting his facilities in 2002, the Ob-Gyn charged.  “Since then, any inspections of abortion clinics in the state have been voluntary.  For those clinics that did allow inspections, no enforcement provisions existed.”

Pro-life advocates across the state organized a grassroots effort to amend the Constitution. After years of work between pro-life leaders and politicians, Amendment 1 passed the legislature.  It went on to win the popular vote by a wide margin (53 percent).

But eight abortion supporters, including the former chair of the regional Planned Parenthood, sued to stop the passed amendment.  They did so by challenging the long-standing way state constitutional amendments tallies are counted.

To ensure a significant vote, the Tennessee Constitution requires amendments to get not only more ‘yes’ votes than ‘no’ votes, but also that those ‘yes’ votes constitute a “majority of all the citizens of the state voting for governor.”

The method election officials use is first to verify that more people voted for the amendment than against it.  They then count all the votes for any governor in total, and if the number of votes for the amendment is more than half of that number, it passes.

Knowing those rules, pro-life and pro-abortion forces used completely divergent tactics in drumming up votes.  Pro-lifers told supporters to leave the governor’s choice blank, so a big gubernatorial vote will not nullify their efforts. Pro-abortion forces decided to advise the opposite, increasing the total tally of votes for governor.

District Judge Kevin Sharp agreed with the pro-abortion challengers that election officials should have only counted amendment ‘yes’ votes from voters who also voted for any governor. But, the Sixth Circuit Court overruling Sharp wrote that the “strategic choices made by members of the voting public” were intended “to maximize the impact of their votes,” and election officials did nothing wrong in tallying the results constitutionally.

“Tennessee did exactly what it had done in prior elections, exactly what it told voters it was going to do and exactly what the constitution says,” State Attorney General Special Assistant Sarah Campbell summarized.

The judges agreed that the pro-abortion challengers’ beef was with Tennessee laws on voting, not with the results of the 2014 ballot.  “Plaintiffs arguments amount to little more than a complaint that the campaigns in support of Amendment 1, operating within the framework established by state law, turned out to be more successful than the campaigns against Amendment 1,” the Sixth Circuit decided.

“This is not the ‘exceptional case’ that warrants federal intervention in a lawful state election process,” Circuit Judge David McKeague wrote.  “Although the subject of abortion rights will continue to be controversial in Tennessee and across our nation, it is time for uncertainty surrounding the people’s 2014 approval and ratification of Amendment 1 to be put to rest.” 

The Attorney General’s office said he was “gratified” that the court confirmed the 2014 election was “true to the meaning of the Tennessee Constitution.”

“Amendment 1 (is) a measure which now allows the Legislature to once again pass meaningful actions that pertain to the abortion industry,” Dr. Boles concluded. “This amendment restored the state constitution to a neutral position on the issue of abortion.”

Related: 

Tennessee appeals federal judge’s order for recount of 2014 voter-backed pro-life amendment

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