Reproductive Rights

Tennessee Voters Challenge Anti-Abortion Constitutional Amendment in Federal Court

Voters in Tennessee have mounted a legal challenge to a 2014 state constitutional amendment — known as Amendment 1 — declaring that there is no right to abortion in Tennessee, even in cases of rape, incest, or life endangerment.

A federal district court in Nashville is scheduled to hear arguments in the legal challenge today. Plaintiffs are asking the court to order state election officials to recount the 2014 vote on the amendment, arguing that the state did not count the votes properly in accordance with the Tennessee state constitution.

To be valid, the Tennessee constitution requires that any state constitutional amendment pass “by a majority of all the citizens of the state voting for governor, voting in their favor.” The voters challenging Amendment 1 argue that this constitutional provision means that when counting votes for a proposed amendment, the state can only count the votes of those individuals who voted both in the governor’s race and on the amendment. The state cannot simply compare the number of votes cast for governor, as a whole, with the number of votes cast for the amendment, as a whole, to determine whether the amendment received a majority of the number of votes cast for governor.

Amendment 1, a measure on the 2014 Tennessee state ballot, narrowly passed with 53 percent of the vote. The Feminist Majority Foundation (FMF) worked with students and advocates in Tennessee to organize against the amendment, which was opposed by reproductive justice organizations, women’s health advocates, obstetricians and gynecologists, religious leaders, and every major Tennessee newspaper.

Anti-abortion politicians in Tennessee appear to have been emboldened in the wake of Amendment 1. Since the 2014 election, state lawmakers have passed at least five laws restricting abortion access, including a 48-hour waiting period coupled with mandatory state counseling that requires at least two trips to a clinic, insurance coverage restrictions, and a ban on telemedicine for medication abortion.

Sources:

The Tennessean 4/3/16; Guttmacher Institute June 2015; Feminist Newswire 11/5/14, 10/31/14, 10/27/14, 10/23/14, 10/6/14