Tennessee Could Be the Next Abortion Battleground

Screen shot 2014-10-15 at 12.27.57 PMThis Nov. 4 will be critical in the battle over abortion rights that’s been brewing in Tennessee. In these midterm elections, Tennesseans will be casting their vote on a ballot measure that can decide the future of reproductive rights in the state.

The ballot measure, called Amendment 1, will change the state’s 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.

Amendment 1 would allow state politicians to pass laws that ban abortion even in cases of rape, incest, or to save the health or life of the woman. It would also allow politicians to pass laws denying life-saving treatments to pregnant women with critical illnesses like cancer. The proposed change even gives state politicians the power to restrict or even ban access to common forms of birth control—like the Pill, IUDs and emergency contraception. Some legislators consider these contraceptive options to be abortifacients, contrary to widely accepted medical knowledge.


It’s important that young people and women in Tennessee make themselves heard this November. Tennessee Republicans have been pushing to bring this amendment to a vote since the state’s Supreme Court blocked a slew of anti-abortion measures from going into effect back in 2000. The endgame of this amendment is to overturn that state Supreme Court decision that protected abortion rights, and eventually make legal abortion impossible in Tennessee.

Amendment 1 would enable politicians to take away the right to make decisions from women and their doctors. If it passes, it would clear the path for the state’s legislature to push through more laws like mandated biased counseling, waiting periods, forced ultrasounds and other restrictive TRAP laws that have successfully shut down clinics in states like Texas and Ohio.

This ballot measure represents an unprecedented attack on the reproductive rights of women not only in Tennessee but also in nearby states. In a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, increasing numbers of women from neighboring states head to Tennessee to terminate their pregnancies—a natural consequence when anti-abortion laws in neighboring states like Alabama and Mississippi have closed down abortion clinics, forcing women to travel to other states to exercise their right to an abortion. In 2010, one in four abortions in Tennessee was performed on an out-of-state woman, and abortions for women coming from outside the state have increased by more than 30 percent in the past decade. Amendment 1 passing in Tennessee could have negative reverberations throughout the region.


National organizers from the Feminist Majority Foundation have been on the ground on college campuses in Tennessee mobilizing students and helping them register to vote. Young Tennesseans may be the state’s last stand against the passage of this draconian amendment that would have wide-ranging consequences for women. It could hurt college women especially since most women seeking abortions in the state are in their 20s, according to the CDC.

Edwith Theogene, an organizer with the FMF who spent time at several universities throughout Tennessee, said that young voters showing up to the polls to defeat this ballot measure is essential.

Amendment 1 goes too far, and the danger it poses to women is far-reaching. It threatens access not only to abortion, but also to birth control, and is a major political interference into the private lives of women.
Theogene went on to say that since the registration deadline has passed, it’s now all about getting voters to show up to the polls to vote no on Amendment 1.
We have been organizing vans and carpools to ensure students can to get to off-campus polling locations and making sure they’re aware of what is required to vote. They can’t use a student ID.

Thanks to voter suppression laws that have been sweeping Republican-controlled states, Tennessee is just one of a growing number of states where young people are no longer allowed to use a student ID as valid voter identification, but instead must have a government-issued photo ID. States like Wisconsin, North Dakota and Iowa—where college students can register on Election Day and vote with a student ID—are becoming few and far between.

For Tennessee voting information, check out this resource from the FMF, and cast your vote in favor of women making their own reproductive decisions. Election Day is Nov. 4, but Tennesseans can vote early in person until Oct. 30.

Photo of student organizers in Tennessee courtesy of Edwith Theogene 


Associate editor of Ms. magazine