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Austin Cline

No Right to Abortion in Tennessee?

By March 15, 2004

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Lawmakers in Tennessee are crafting an amendment to the state's constitution which would assert that their constitution doesn't protect a woman's right to abortion - even in cases of rape, incest, or the woman's health. This wouldn't override federal protections of abortion, but the hope is that if Roe v. Wade is overturned, Tennessee would be able to outlaw abortion immediately and in all circumstances.

Bonna de la Cruz writes for The Tennessean that eliminating even the protection for abortion in cases of rape, incest, or the mother's health has caused a lot of debate:

Initially, Democrats offered an amendment to provide a constitutional right to abortions for victims of rape or incest or when a woman's life is in danger. That effort was led by Sen. Roy Herron, D-Dresden, who said he and his wife almost had to face the gut-wrenching choice once of saving his wife's life or ending her pregnancy. ''I will tell you with every ounce of my fiber, it's a decision we make with the guidance of almighty God, not the almighty government,'' Herron said. But a Republican effort to change the amendment prevailed.
Herron offered this scenario: If the constitutional amendment passes with Norris' wording and the U.S. Supreme Court overturns abortion protections in Roe vs. Wade, the Tennessee legislature could choose to ban abortion but not choose to put in safeguards for victims of rape or incest or women whose lives are in danger. ''Its effect is to provide the illusion of protection without the reality of protection,'' Herron said.

Herron is quite correct - although the amendment allows the legislature to make exceptions to a ban on abortion, it doesn't require it. Thus, even a woman who would die if she carried a pregnancy to term could be prohibited from getting an abortion in Tennessee. In that state, this is what goes under the label "pro-life."

The partisan nature of the Republican's efforts was underscored by the fact that a prayer delivered before the debate called upon God "Give our legislature the strength to stand for what is right. Protect them from civil liberty lawyers and lobbyists against life." This implication, of course, is that it simply isn't possible for there to be reasonable disagreement over the abortion question: God is against abortion and that's that.

Is this any way for an elected representative to act? Yes, the prayer was given by a Republican senator, not a priest. Since when do people gain the authority to speak on God's behalf when they are elected to the Tennessee Senate? Is there something special about elections down there that I am unaware of? Do State Senators become State Ministers as well?

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