The Senate voted 24-8 Monday night – three votes more than the two-thirds majority needed — in favor of an amendment to the state constitution that would allow future legislatures to enact law putting new restrictions on abortions in Tennessee.
The vote marks the sixth – and perhaps final — time the Senate has approved an amendment aimed at negating a 2000 state Supreme Court decision that declared Tennessee’s constitution provides greater abortion rights than does the U.S. Constitution.
The resolution, SJR127, was approved by both the House and Senate during the 106th General Assembly. Rules for adopting a constitution amendment now require it pass by two-thirds majorities in both the House and Senate during the 107th General Assembly — and Monday’s vote got it halfway there.
If the House, as expected, now echoes the Senate’s solid approval later in the session, there will be a referendum on the statewide ballot in 2014 that, if approved by voters, will insert this language into the state constitution:
“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.”
Sen. Roy Herron, D-Dresden, sought to change the proposal to declare that no law could ever be enacted banning the right to an abortion when the mother’s life is in danger. As drafted, Herron said, “all it does is say the Legislature can protect you if they will or harm you if they want.”
Beavers said adoption of the Herron proposal would force anti-abortion activists to start the long process of amending the constitution all over again in the effort to combat activist judges who “converted the Supreme Court into a roving constitutional convention.”
“This is about returning to the people, through their legislators, the right to enact reasonable regulations to protect the health of women and the unborn,” she said.
Herron’s proposed change on life of the mother was tabled, or defeated, 21-11. A similar proposed Herron revision dealing with cases of rape and incest was tabled 22-10.
Before the 106th General Assembly, similar proposed constitutional amendments regularly passed the Senate, but failed in a House subcommittee. That changed in 2009 when Republicans took control of both chambers.