Activism Reproductive Rights

Religious Leaders Unite in Tennessee and Colorado to Oppose Extreme Anti-Abortion Ballot Measures

Local religious leaders have come together to denounce ballot measures in Tennessee and Colorado that, if passed, would jeopardize access to abortion in those states.

FMF's National Campus Organizers Edwith and Ashleigh with students from Austin Peay University voting No on Amendment 1
FMF’s National Campus Organizers Edwith and Ashleigh with students from Austin Peay University voting No on Amendment 1

At Sunday services last week, local clergy from Southern Baptist, Assemblies of God, United Pentecostal, Presbyterian and Free Will Baptist churches, as well as leaders of other faiths, spoke out against Tennessee’s Amendment 1, which would allow the government to interfere with women’s personal health decisions. Tennessee voters will decide on Amendment 1 in the upcoming election. Election day is November 4, but Tennessee voters can vote early, in-person, from October 15 to October 30.

“Who decides what’s best for a woman’s health? A rape victim and her minister, or a religious zealot who would impose his will on all Tennessee women and families?” said Rabbi Micah Greenstein at a gathering of 40 Memphis-area clergy at Evergreen Presbyterian Church last Wednesday.

If passed by Tennessee voters on November 4, Amendment 1 would allow state politicians to pass laws that ban abortion even in the cases of rape, incest, or to save the health or life of the woman. Politicians could pass state laws that would deny lifesaving treatments to pregnant women with critical illnesses like cancer, or even ban access to common forms of birth control, like the pill, IUDs, and emergency contraception, that they consider – contrary to respected medical information – to be abortifacients.

Amendment 1 would change the Tennessee state constitution to read: “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.” In effect, if passed, Amendment 1 would give state politicians the right to make decisions about the health and lives of women, and takes those rights away from women and their doctors.

Tennessee is not the only state with potentially devastating measures on the ballot this Fall. In North Dakota, voters will decide on Measure 1, a personhood amendment that would change the state constitution to provide an “inalienable right to life” at “any stage of development.” If passed, Measure 1 would ban all abortions in the state, without exception, and could make illegal many forms of birth control, stem-cell research and in vitro fertilization. Measure 1 also threatens end-of-life care and could interfere with organ donation. And although Colorado voters defeated broad personhood amendments to their state’s constitution in 2008 and 2010, Personhood Colorado has placed Amendment 67 on the ballot this year, which would amend the state constitution to include “unborn human beings” in the definitions of “person” and “child” in the state criminal code and Wrongful Death Act.

“Though the strategy is arguably different, the result is the same,” wrote Gaylynn Burroughs, Director of Policy & Research for the Feminist Majority Foundation, in the Fall 2014 issue of Ms. magazine. “If passed, Amendment 67 would threaten abortion rights, birth control, fertility treatments and some medical treatments for critically ill pregnant women—and open up the possibility of criminal investigations into miscarriages. All pregnant women’s bodies would become potential crime scenes. Supporters of the amendment claim that the change would protect pregnant women from crime—but we’ve heard that one before. The reality is that these laws are used to punish women, many who are struggling with drug dependency and mental-health issues and too often suffer tragic pregnancy outcomes.”

Over 80 faith leaders in Colorado have also united in opposition to the extreme ballot measure in their state. “We support the rights of conscience, and a woman’s capacity to make a personal decision with consultation from her doctor, her family, her clergy and her God,” remarked Reverend Jann Halloran, president of the board of the Colorado Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, in a statement released last month. Rabbi Joseph Black, head of the largest Jewish congregation in Colorado, echoed her sentiments.

“While my tradition upholds the sanctity of life, the life and health of the mother is always more important than that of a fetus,” Rabbi Black wrote. “To claim that a fertilized egg is anything other than a potential life is to go against Jewish values. It is a dangerous precedent.”

Colorado voters can vote early in-person beginning on October 20. Coloradans may also vote by mail. Ballots are mailed to every Colorado voter on October 14.

Media Resources: The Tennessean 10/2/14; Pagosa Daily Post 9/19/14; Vote No On 1 TN; North Dakotans Against Measure 1; Vote No on 67; Ms. Magazine Fall 2014; Feminist Campus

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