Tag Archives: abortion

Lawyer: Abortion amendment likely to be invalidated

By Sheila Burke, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — An amendment to the Tennessee Constitution that would place greater restrictions on abortions is likely to be tossed out now that a judge has ordered a recount of the 2014 ballot approving it, the lead plaintiff in a federal lawsuit challenging the results said Monday.

Fifty-three percent of voters approved Amendment 1 in November 2014. Last week, however, a federal judge ordered a recount after finding that the method used to tabulate the votes was fundamentally unfair to those who opposed the amendment. U.S. District Judge Kevin Sharp said the votes were tallied in favor of abortion opponents.

The federal ruling came a day after a state court judge found in favor of the way Tennessee counted the ballots.

In his ruling, Sharp cited language from the Tennessee Constitution that said an amendment is ratified by a “majority of all citizens of the state voting for governor.”
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Judge rules votes correctly counted on Amendment 1

a Williamson County judge on Thursday has ruled against contentions that ballots were incorrectly counted in the 2014 statewide referendum on an amendment to the Tennessee constitution that made it easier for the legislature to enact abortion restrictions.

From The Tennessean report:

Eight voters opposing the measure, including the board chair of Planned Parenthood of Middle & Eastern Tennessee, filed suit in federal court contesting the state’s method of counting votes.

State lawyers, in turn, filed suit against those eight voters in a Williamson County court in September 2015, two months after a federal judge refused their request to dismiss the suit. The state in the Williamson County suit sought an order stating that Tennessee election officials’ method of counting votes was consistent with the state constitution.

In his 22-page order on Thursday, Circuit Court Judge Michael Binkley granted the state the order it was seeking. Binkley noted the language Tennessee Constitution on how votes for amendments should be counted is “unambiguous.”

Under the Tennessee Constitution, ballot measures require a different voting method than the simple majority required to elect a candidate. For an amendment to succeed, it must be ratified “by a majority of all the citizens of the state voting for governor, voting in their favor,” the Constitution says.

State election officials have long interpreted the language to mean that passage of an amendment depends on comparing the number of votes cast for governor with the number of votes cast for an amendment. To succeed, an amendment must get a majority of the number of votes cast for governor.

Voters challenging the measure say that the language means that only the voters who voted in the governor’s race can have their vote’s counted on a ballot measure.

It was a contention that Binkley dismissed, noting in his ruling that the Tennessee Constitution “does not precondition the right of a citizen to vote for or against a constitutional amendment upon that citizen also voting in a gubernatorial election.”

Judge hears challenge to TN abortion voting

By Travis Loller, Associated Press

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Abortion rights supporters on Tuesday asked a federal judge to toss out a 2014 constitutional amendment that made it easier to restrict abortion in Tennessee.

They claim the way the vote was counted was unfair and favored supporters of the amendment, which passed with 53 percent voting in favor.

Supporters and opponents spent more than $5.5 million on the campaign over Amendment 1. Much of that was raised by abortion rights advocates from Planned Parenthood affiliates across the country who fought the change.

Amendment 1 added language to the Tennessee constitution making clear that it does not protect abortion. Once the constitution was changed, the General Assembly passed laws requiring clinics to meet the strict standards of surgical treatment centers and requiring women seeking abortions to undergo mandatory counselling and then wait 48 hours before getting an abortion.

Tennessee previously was an outlier in the South, with fewer abortion regulations than surrounding states.

During the campaign, supporters of Amendment 1 portrayed Tennessee as an “abortion destination,” playing up that almost 23 percent of the women getting abortions in Tennessee at the time were from out of state. But another campaign led by anonymous supporters of the amendment is what led to the current court challenge

On social media and in churches around the state, people were urged to “double your vote” by skipping the governor’s race and voting “yes” on Amendment 1. That’s because the state constitution that says amendments must be passed by “a majority of all the citizens of the state voting for governor, voting in their favor.”

The state says that language refers to how many people have to vote in favor of an amendment for it to be ratified. It is not enough for an amendment to simply have more “yes” votes than “no” votes. The number of “yes” votes also has to be equal to at least the number of people voting for governor plus one, a simple majority.

So if 1,000,000 vote for governor, at least 500,001 must vote in favor of the amendment. But if fewer people vote for governor, fewer votes are needed to pass an amendment.

Plaintiffs’ attorney Bill Harbison argued in federal court in Nashville on Wednesday the state is incorrectly interpreting the way amendment votes should be counted. He said the language of the constitution — “a majority of all the citizens of the state voting for governor” — refers not to the number of voters, but to the voters themselves. That is, only voters who cast ballots in the governor’s race should have their votes counted on the amendment.

Because the state looked only at the number of voters and not at the voters themselves, election officials created a situation where “yes” votes can hold more weight than “no” votes, according to Harbison. He said that was in violation of the plaintiffs’ federal due process and equal protection rights.

He suggested the fact that, for the first time, there were more votes on an amendment than in the governor’s race, shows the campaign to manipulate the vote was successful. And he said a ruling in favor of the state’s interpretation would invite future manipulation.

Deputy Attorney General Janet Kleinfelter, arguing for the state, said there is no proof that voters actually participated in the voting scheme pushed by some Amendment 1 supporters. She said there may simply have been more voter interest in the amendment than in the governor’s race, in which a political unknown ran against popular incumbent Gov. Bill Haslam.

Kleinfelter also said the state has counted votes on amendments in the same way for more than 100 years.

“State officials, election officials and courts shouldn’t interpret the constitution based on how political campaigns might try to manipulate it,” she told the court.

U.S. District Judge Kevin Sharp said he will rule as soon as possible.

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Blackburn subpoenas bring ‘witch hunt’ claims

Medical researchers and abortion-rights groups accused a special investigative panel headed by U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn of conducting a “witch hunt” after the panel issued a dozen subpoenas Wednesday to compel medical supply companies and others involved in fetal tissue research to divulge information about their practices, reports Michael Collins.

The subpoenas seek documents related to fetal tissue research and the names and titles of current and former personnel involved in the procurement of fetal tissue.

Blackburn, a Brentwood Republican, said the information is needed to get a complete picture of what the organizations are doing.

But medical researchers and others argued the committee’s investigation could slow or halt important research into cures for diseases such as Ebola and the Zika virus. What’s more, they said, demanding the names of researchers, graduate students, laboratory technicians and others could potentially put their lives at risk.
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Governor’s gun bill moving, abortion bill sitting

Gov. Bill Haslam’s gun bill zipped through the House Finance Subcommittee without discussion Wednesday, reports The Tennessean. But his abortion bill is still awaiting its first vote.

The gun measure (HB2575) increases the time that handgun permits are valid while also decreasing fees.

Current law requires Tennessee handgun owners to pay $115 to obtain a five-year permit. Haslam’s bill seeks to lower the cost to $100 while also allowing a permit to remain valid for eight years.

The bill received no discussion in the committee and heads to the chamber’s full finance committee. The Senate version of the bill is scheduled to be discussed next week.

While several of Haslam’s main agenda items, including creating local boards for the state’s six four-year colleges and a criminal justice bill, have been making their way through the legislature, one has not gone anywhere.

The governor’s “Fetal Remains Act” (HB2577) has yet to be discussed in a single legislative committee. The legislation would require more reporting of the disposition of fetal remains and would “prohibit reimbursement of any costs associated with shipping an aborted fetus or fetal remains.”

“The Fetal Remains Act strengthens accountability and transparency for surgery centers performing abortions,” Haslam said when his agenda was introduced in January.

Anti-abortion bills on ultrasound, fetal tissue withdrawn

Republican lawmakers on Tuesday withdrew two anti-abortion bills, reports the Times-Free Press. One sought to require a woman to have an ultrasound before she could undergo the procedure and the other barred the sale of tissue from aborted fetuses.

No explanations were given for taking the ultrasound bill, sponsored by Rep. Rick Womick, R-Rockvale, and the fetal tissue bill, sponsored by Rep. Micah Van Huss, R-Gray, off notice.

Brian Harris, president of Tennessee Right to Life, said the organization wasn’t backing either one and had swung its support to Republican Gov. Bill Haslam’s legislation to regulate abortion clinics, as well as tissue donations.

The pro-life group has said it supports legislation that isn’t likely to spur a federal lawsuit.

Tennessee Planned Parenthood officials say their facilities do not engage in tissue donation for medical purposes.

Controversies over the use of fetal tissue and organs for medical purposes exploded last year. That was when the anti-abortion group, Center for Medical Progress, released portions of secretly recorded videos. They purported to show a national Planned Parenthood official discussing with CMP members, who posed as researchers, the procurement of fetal tissues for medical purposes.

The video appeared to show Planned Parenthood affiliates seeking to profit from fetal tissue transfers. But Planned Parenthood officials charged the video was selectively edited and falsely portrayed abortion clinics charging fees beyond legally permissible tissue donation costs like transportation.

Challenge to TN abortion laws put on hold

A legal challenge to three Tennessee abortion laws has been put on hold pending the outcome of a Texas case before the U.S. Supreme Court that could set a new precedent for abortion restrictions, reports The Tennessean.

The operators of three abortion clinics — The Women’s Center in Nashville, the Memphis Center for Reproductive Health and the Bristol Regional Women’s Center — filed suit in U.S. District Court in Nashville in June challenging a trio of Tennessee abortion laws. They include a 2015 requirement that clinics performing 50 or more surgical abortions each year be regulated as ambulatory surgical care centers and imposed a mandatory 48-hour waiting period for women after required abortion counseling, also enacted in 2015.

The Tennessee suit also challenges a 2012 law requiring physicians performing abortions to obtain admitting privileges at a local hospital. That law has forced the closure of two Tennessee abortion clinics.

“The standards expected to be addressed by the Supreme Court will be critical for developing and evaluating the relevant evidence in this case,” lawyers for the state and the Tennessee clinics noted in their joint request for a temporary halt to the proceedings, which was granted by U.S. District Senior Judge Kevin Sharp.

On March 2, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in a Texas case challenging two laws “substantially similar” to those the Tennessee clinics are seeking to overturn. A decision is expected by June.

That case, known as Whole Woman’s Health v. Cole, involves a similar physician-admitting requirement and a measure requiring Texas clinics to meet the standards of an ambulatory surgical care center. The Texas case does not involve a challenge to mandatory waiting periods, but lawyers in the Nashville case noted that the “Supreme Court may well provide further guidance on how to apply the undue burden test that will bear on the constitutional analysis of this restriction.”

Blackburn criticizes Vandy Planned Parenthood polling

U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., has accused Vanderbilt University of trying to advance a political agenda through the handling of a question on Planned Parenthood, reports The Tennessean.

According to the survey, Tennesseans support the state funding many of the health care services provided by Planned Parenthood. Blackburn says the poll is flawed because it doesn’t mention that abortion is also funded by the organization as part of the questioning of those surveyed.

“I am disappointed that an institute such as Vanderbilt is publishing a poll that has such a thinly veiled agenda. Vanderbilt has a responsibility to educate women, men and children about access to quality health care,” Blackburn said in a statement to The Tennessean.

“Our community health centers provide the services mentioned and many more important health care services, including dental, mental health care, and coordination of health care — many of those services are provided at no cost or low cost to Tennesseans. Vanderbilt missed an opportunity here.”

Blackburn was recently named leader of the “Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives,” a congressional panel investigating abortion providers.

The Vanderbilt Poll found at least two-thirds of the 512 people surveyed support the Tennessee state government giving Planned Parenthood funding for the following services:

Preventative care screenings, such as breast exams
HIV testing or counseling
Testing or treatment of other sexually transmitted diseases
Limited primary care, such as flu shots
Pregnancy testing
Pregnancy counseling
Birth control or contraception.

…John Geer, co-director of the poll, said some of the results “absolutely” would have been different if people had been asked about Planned Parenthood in the context of abortions.

The Vanderbilt Poll also asked a separate sample group of 501 people the same questions related to services, referencing health care organizations in general, as opposed to Planned Parenthood in particular. The results showed slightly more support for funding the same services listed above. Overall, though, support didn’t really differ too much when people were asked about a generic health care organization or Planned Parenthood specifically.

On Rep. Diane Black and the Colorado Springs shootings

U.S. Rep. Diane Black, arguably the leader in criticism of Planned Parenthood within Tennessee’s congressional delegation and member of a House committee set up to investigate sale of fetal tissue, is also the first in the delegation to offer commentary on the murders last week at a Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood facility.

Blogger Jeff Woods, meanwhile, quotes a Tennessee Planned Parenthood leader, Jeff Teague, as questioning whether rhetoric from Republican lawmakers — specifically including Black and U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, who chairs the congressional investigating committee — inspires such things.

“They are continuing to repeat these lies and false accusations against Planned Parenthood and it’s completely irresponsible,” he said.

The Black commentary:
Last Friday, a deranged man opened fire at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs, killing three and injuring nine. While the killer reportedly spoke of opposition to abortion at the time of his arrest, his actions are antithetical to the heart of the pro-life movement. They enrage all of us who believe in the sanctity of life at every stage, born and unborn – including the lives of those with whom we may disagree – and they have no place in our country.

The murderer behind these vicious attacks, Robert Dear, did not just take innocent life that day. With his words and his actions, he also perverted a cause that is precious to so many of us. The heart of the pro-life movement is a heart of compassion, but on Friday Americans saw hatred and violence which the media and Planned Parenthood have now wrapped under a fraudulent cloak of ‘pro-life’ beliefs.
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Haslam bill to block Planned Parenthood ‘abhorrent activities’ in TN

Gov. Bill Haslam has told state legislators that — through administrative actions already taken and a bill that will be submitted to the General Assembly in January — he intends to “prevent the abhorrent activities discussed in the Planned Parenthood videos from occurring in Tennessee.”

The governor’s letter, dated Wednesday, comes three months after a legislative hearing inspired the videos depicting Planned Parenthood officials discussing the sale of fetal tissue, which were circulated by anti-abortion activities and triggered congressional investigations in Washington.

At the August Joint Government Operations Committee hearing, Health Commissioner John Dreyzehner acknowledged that, while it’s against state law to sell fetal tissues, there were no rules in place requiring abortion providers to report on disposal methods used in each case. Some legislators said that could make it easy for providers to dodge the law. Prior to the hearing, Haslam had sent lawmakers a letter outlining existing law and state dealings with Planned Parenthood.

Haslam’s letter, depicted by administration officials as a follow-up to his Aug. 12 letter prior to the hearing, says the Department of Health has since strengthened record-keeping rules to require that the state be sent a report on disposal of abortion remains in each case.
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