Editor's Note: With 32 days left until the presidential election, PolicyMic's Audrey Farber will be posting a daily update on the state of abortion rights in the U.S., covering legislative challenges to Roe v. Wade in all 50 states. So far, we've gotten updates on Ohio, Florida, Georgia, D.C., South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Delaware, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Maine and New Hampshire. Check back in every day to keep track!
Recent Gallup poll data shows that 1 in 6 Americans will be making their choice in the November elections based on candidates' stances on abortion. While Mitt Romney has claimed that the issue has been "settled in the courts" for some time, states like Tennessee prove the fight is far from over.
The first casualty of Tennessee’s anti-abortion movement was a clinic that closed in August, citing a law signed by Governor Bill Haslam in May that requires doctors performing abortions in out-patient clinics to have admitting privileges at local hospitals. Sound familiar?
This bill, in its original March 2012 Tennessee House form, would have also published the names of doctors providing abortions online and publicly released possibly-identifying information about women who have abortions. The bill was quickly stripped of these two segments, citing concern for doctors’ and patients’ personal safety and privacy.
Tennessee probably won’t have to worry about abortions if no one knows what sex is.
In the same session, Governor Haslam signed a law decreeing that Tennessee teachers can no longer talk about “gateway sexual activity” in the state’s abstinence-first curriculum, a bill pushed by Family Action Council of Tennessee. The group said the bill does “not ban kissing or holding hands from discussion in sex ed classes...[it] addresses the touching of certain ‘gateway body parts,’ including genitals, buttocks, breasts and the inner thigh.” We all know what happens with this kind of conservative education: teen pregnancy and a spot on Colbert’s wørd.
The State Senate also passed a measure to criminalize harming embryos at any stage of development, an assault law that is often seen as a first step towards the ability to outlaw abortions. Tennessee de-funded Planned Parenthood in 2011, redirecting the money to other clinics. And, honestly, I wasn’t expecting to see more references to telemedicine, but I suppose I was being naïve: Tennessee prohibits the “use of telemedicine for the performance of medication abortion [RU-486],” making it much more difficult for women in rural areas to abort early-term pregnancies.
Still, Tennessee has been somewhat of a holdout state compared to its neighbors. A 2000 Tennessee Supreme Court Ruling found:
“A woman’s right to terminate her pregnancy is a vital part of the right to privacy guaranteed by the Tennessee Constitution...As this right is inherent in the concept of ordered liberty embodied in the Tennessee Constitution, we conclude that the right to terminate one’s pregnancy is fundamental.”
This ruling made unconstitutional Tennessee’s old abortion restrictions: use of state-created counseling materials, a three-day waiting period, and late-term abortions only performed in hospitals, making Tennessee one of the most accessible of the Southern states.
Even though, according to a 2012 Vanderbilt University poll 78% of Tennesseans believe abortion should be legal in some or all cases and only 16% believe it should be illegal in all cases, Tennessee’s constitutionally-protected fundamental right to an abortion could disappear. Tennessee Right to Life and others have finally succeeded in putting this convoluted amendment on the 2014 ballot, hoping voters will overturn the Supreme Court ruling.