The Sevier County Commission made no decision at its meeting Monday on a resolution supporting proposed Amendment 1 to the Tennessee Constitution that would remove privacy rights regarding abortion.
In 2000, the state Supreme Court ruled in Planned Parenthood of Middle Tennessee v. Sundquist that the Tennessee Constitution provides an independent right to privacy and greater protections for reproductive freedom than the U.S. Constitution, saying that “a woman’s right to terminate her pregnancy is a vital part of the right to privacy guaranteed by the Tennessee Constitution.” The Supreme Court also ruled that certain abortion laws were unconstitutional and infringed upon a woman’s fundamental privacy rights.
Proposed Amendment 1 on the November 4, 2014 General Election ballot would add the following language to the Tennessee Constitution to remove such privacy rights:
“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.”
Supporters of Amendment 1 want the right to privacy removed to enable passage of stricter abortion laws and regulations, much like those measures recently passed in other states that have severely limited women’s access to the procedure.
Opponents say Amendment 1 would allow government intrusion into private medical decisions.
The Steering Committee placed the resolution to support Amendment 1 on the commission agenda at the request of Harold Pitner and Greg Haggard, both commissioners from the 6th District in Seymour.
More than 25 “Vote No on 1” advocates attended the Sevier County Commission meeting, some wearing movement t-shirts or stickers showing their opposition to Amendment 1. During the public comment section of the meeting, four women gave impassioned speeches against Amendment 1, urging commissioners to also vote against the resolution.
Two of those speeches are published below in their entirety.
There was no public showing of support for the amendment or “Vote Yes on 1” at the meeting. Neither did anyone speak in support during the public comment section.
When the meeting came to consideration of the resolution supporting Amendment 1, Pitner made the motion to approve the resolution, seconded by Haggard.
However, before any debate or vote on the matter Commissioner Ronnie Allen of the 7th District made a motion to lay it on the table, saying he needed to find out more about it before voting. Gene Byrd, commissioner of the 8th District seconded the motion to table. Commissioners immediately voted on the motion to table by a show of hands. Of the 23 commissioners present, 18 voted in favor, four against and one did not vote.
Tabling a motion postpones any action until another motion is made to take if from the table. This postpones any vote on this resolution until a future meeting, or perhaps indefinitely since the commission is not set to meet again until after the November Election.
Barbara Wagner Addressing the Sevier County Commission on Oct. 20, 2014
Thank you for the opportunity to address this body as you consider a resolution on Amendment 1. I am confused about why this body would address the issue, as it will have absolutely no impact on the passage or failure of the Amendment. It seems a lot like the government intrusion that the Amendment itself represents. And since there are 4 Amendments on the ballot, why is this the only one you choose to pass judgment upon?
My chief concern is that we have here, as in our State Legislature, a body made up of largely men, trying to impose laws and changes to our Constitution that will directly impact only women’s healthcare choices. Women are capable of making these very personal choices, consulting with their medical doctors, not their government officials. While I know several legislators personally, none of them know me, my family or our medical histories well enough to make those decisions. Government should not be involved in these choices.
This Amendment is rooted in privacy protections within our State Constitution. What other areas of our personal lives will this change affect? No one can answer that for me. Few of us can imagine anything more private than medical care. So I ask, how many of you could entrust elected officials with your own sexual and reproductive health? This is government intrusion.
Proponents say our facilities are not inspected or regulated. All doctors that provide abortion in TN are regulated and licensed. These doctors are required to have admitting privileges at a local hospital due to a 2012 change to our State Law. So you see, there does NOT need to be a change to our Constitution in order to impose new laws in this area of medicine.
Another popular claim is this Amendment would enable the State to stop taxpayer funding for abortion. The truth is – No insurance – public or private – will cover an elective procedure. The only way ANY insurance will cover ANY procedure is when it has been deemed “medically necessary” by a well-trained doctor, one who has been repeatedly tested on medical knowledge, unlike any of our legislators or county commissioners.
If passed, this change will give our Legislature carte blanche to impose any restriction on the availability of reproductive care for women – not men. It could subject women to unnecessary invasive procedures, like the famed vaginal ultrasounds, or prolonged waiting periods, or time limits that do not take into account medical testing that cannot be done until midway through pregnancy.
I hope you will reject Amendment 1 and keep government out of the business of making medical choices for ANY of us. Amendment 1 is dangerous and misleading. Vote NO on 1.
Candi Fitzgibbons Addressing the Sevier County Commission on Oct. 20, 2014
All 4 major newspapers in TN
- The Tennessean
- Knox News Sentinel
- Chattanooga Times and
- Commercial Appeal
Have urged readers to Vote NO on 1.
The Tennessean said:
“Regardless of your position on the difficult issue of abortion, as a voter in Tennessee you should be appalled at the deception that is written into the proposed Amendment 1. Making any type of law immune from a court challenge is shortsighted, prejudicial — and in the case of what should be a woman’s own decision about her health — downright dangerous.”
Baptist minister, constitutional lawyer and renowned author Oliver ‘Buzz’ Thomas also urges Vote NO.
Let us be clear that Amendment 1 is NOT a women’s safety issue.
Abortion clinics and their doctors are highly regulated and the government already has the power to inspect them and create more safety regulations.
In 2012, lawmakers passed the Life Defense Act, mandating that all abortion-providing physicians in the state have admitting privileges at a hospital.
Abortion is one of the safest medical procedures. According to the Centers for Disease Control, abortion has more than a 99% safety record.
Amendment 1 is about denying access to safe, legal abortion.
This is really a political maneuver more than a decade in the works by anti-abortion legislators and religious organizations to create a situation where abortion would technically be legal in Tennessee, but nearly impossible for women to access due to so many restrictions and regulations.
Already some TN women must travel 5-6 hours round trip to reach one of the seven clinics.
Amendment 1 is a privacy issue.
It would remove a woman’s right to privacy already guaranteed by our state constitution.
Imagine a daughter, wife, mother of three little children admitted to a hospital, finding out that she has an aggressive cancer… and that she is pregnant. What a heart-wrenching decision this woman would need to make. A decision she currently has a right to make about her own medical care with counsel from her doctor and consideration of her family and faith.
Passing Amendment 1 would place such private, medical decisions in the hands of politicians.
It would allow the passage of laws that could deny a woman life-saving medical treatments, procedures or medications that may harm the fetus.
You don’t have to be pro-choice to agree that women and families need the ability to make decisions themselves in tragic moments.
Amendment 1 is not a faith issue.
The U.S. Constitution forbids Congress from promoting one religion over others. Laws that govern an entire population should not be based upon religious beliefs of a select group. I believe this requires you as elected officials, set aside any opinion of Amendment 1 based upon your personal faith to represent all residents of Sevier County fairly and equally.
I urge you to vote no on this resolution. Amendment 1 is unnecessary to ensure women’s safety and is government interference into private medical decisions.