The Tennessee legislature will take up new restrictions on abortion rights when it reconvenes in January, after voters amended the state constitution to give elected officials greater control over the issue.
The state Supreme Court has ruled in the past that Tennessee’s constitution prohibited lawmakers from passing those restrictions. In 2000, the court voided a package of bills that would have required a waiting period for women seeking an abortion, counseling and stricter inspections of abortion clinics.
Anti-abortion activists wrote Amendment 1 to alter the part of the constitution the court relied upon in its ruling. The new language specifically states that nothing in the constitution guarantees the right to an abortion. Instead, it gives legislators the right to regulate abortion.
Amendment 1 passed with just 52.6 percent of the vote, racking up big leads in rural and suburban counties to make up for huge opposition in the state’s biggest cities. Voters in Nashville and Memphis voted against the measure by nearly two-to-one margins.
State House Speaker Beth Harwell (R) expects to take up a few of the measures the court struck down more than a decade ago.
Harwell said Wednesday that she will support three measures in the 2015 legislative session: one to implement a mandatory waiting period, one to require “informed consent” or mandatory counseling to anyone seeking an abortion, and one requiring stricter inspections for clinics.
“The citizens have said they want us to examine our abortion laws and see what appropriate action needs to be taken, and I believe the legislature will look for some common sense regulations that ensure that abortion is a safe procedure in our state,” Harwell told the Tennessean.
Republicans hold huge majorities in the Tennessee legislature. They control the state Senate 27 to 6, and they have a 73-to-26 advantage in the state House.
Before the amendment passed, Tennessee was something of an anomaly in the South, where it was the only state without significant abortion restrictions on the books. That meant a large number of women from surrounding states such as Arkansas, Alabama, Mississippi and Kentucky would travel to Tennessee to receive the procedures. About a quarter of the abortions in Tennessee are performed on women traveling from out of state, the Tennessean reported.
The pro-abortion rights Guttmacher Institute reports that 35 states already require women to receive counseling before an abortion is performed. Twenty-six states require a waiting period before women can get abortions.