NASHVILLE (BP) — The war to protect unborn life in America has shifted in significant measure to the state level, with Tennessee and North Dakota emerging as key battlegrounds this fall.
Voters in both states will consider amendments to their state constitutions Nov. 4 which would provide legal backing for restrictions on abortion. Neither amendment would outlaw abortion altogether since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Roe v. Wade that the federal constitution implies a woman’s right to terminate a pregnancy at virtually any point.
“The pro-abortion movement fears that Roe v. Wade may one day fall,” Brian Harris, president of Tennessee Right to Life, told Baptist Press. “And they intend to be prepared for that with 50 individual state court rulings finding broad abortion rights within the body and text of the 50 individual state constitutions.”
In Tennessee, Amendment 1 would head off the efforts of abortion advocates, providing constitutional grounding for informed consent laws, mandatory waiting periods for abortions and requirements that second and third trimester abortions be performed in hospitals, Harris said.
The amendment states, “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.”
Pursuant to Tennessee law, the amendment has already received a majority vote in both houses of the state legislature followed by a two-thirds majority vote in both houses during a subsequent legislative session. It now must be approved by a majority of voters and receive more than half as many votes as are cast in the governor’s race.
The latest polling conducted by Tennessee Right to Life indicates 53 percent support for the amendment among likely voters with a 4 percent margin of error, Harris said. When pollsters explained the amendment, support rose to 62 percent.
According to polling, 91 percent of likely voters in the governor’s race also plan to vote on Amendment 1. So amendment supporters believe at least 58 percent support in polls is needed prior to Election Day to yield more than half the total number of votes cast in the gubernatorial race, Harris said.
Protestant and Catholic churches are among the amendment’s strongest supporters, with 10 Tennessee denominations, including the Tennessee Baptist Convention, passing resolutions or making official statements in support of the measure.
“A church cannot support a partisan candidate or work for the election of a particular candidate” according to IRS regulations, Harris said. “But IRS regulations are very clear that on the matter of a referendum, any 501(c)(3) organization can take a position either in support or opposition.”
Russell D. Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, hosted a meeting of some 50 Nashville area pastors and church leaders Sept. 18 to urge support for Amendment 1. Moore also recorded a video advocating the measure.
“As followers of Jesus Christ, we believe that abortion is the taking of an innocent human life created in the image of God,” Moore said in the video. “For us abortion is not a political issue. It’s not just a social issue. It’s an issue of justice.”
Supporters say the Tennessee amendment is necessary because a 2000 decision by the state Supreme Court declared that the state’s constitution implies a right to abortion.
R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., said Tennessee “is in danger of becoming the Mecca for abortion in the deep South, or even in the Mid-South” because its legal protections of abortion exceed those in neighboring states.
“Some of the abortion clinics in Tennessee are glad to be destinations for those coming for abortions from other states,” Mohler said in his daily podcast Oct. 1. “One abortion clinic in Nashville even offers discount coupons for those coming from out of state, a rather perverse demonstration of the business behind abortion. At present, the state of Tennessee has seven abortion clinics — that’s down from 16 in 2000, but still more than any of its neighboring states with the singular exception of North Carolina.
“We’re looking here at the fact that once again geography matters, and when it comes to abortion, geography can matter profoundly. But the citizens of Tennessee have an opportunity to make their geography matter differently than it does now — ending, or at least reducing, the fact that their state is an abortion Mecca,” Mohler said.
Early voting in Tennessee begins Oct. 15.
Meanwhile in North Dakota, voters will consider a constitutional amendment that states, “The inalienable right to life of every human being at every stage of development must be recognized and protected.”
Known as Measure 1, the amendment was placed on the ballot by a bipartisan majority of the state legislature and would provide constitutional backing for laws “ensuring that women are given full disclosure of information prior to an abortion, providing that abortion can only be performed by licensed physicians with hospital admitting privileges to protect women in case of emergencies, making sure parents are notified if their daughter is seeking an abortion, and prohibiting the gruesome partial-birth abortion procedure,” ND Choose Life, a coalition supporting the amendment, said on its website.
Such laws are threatened by a state judge’s ruling that North Dakota’s constitution contains an implicit right to abortion, ND Choose Life said. That ruling is being reviewed by the state Supreme Court.
Opponents of the North Dakota amendment allege that it would restrict in vitro fertilization and limit the ability of families to make end-of-life decisions for their loved ones. ND Choose Life disputes both claims.
In related news, a bill under consideration by the U.S. Senate would overturn state laws requiring abortion doctors to have admitting privileges at a local hospital. The Women’s Health Protection Act of 2013 would also ban requirements that women view ultrasound images of their babies before having abortions and outlaw mandatory waiting periods, World News Service reported.
Introduced by Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., the bill has been labelled by some as an effort to reverse successful state-level campaigns to restrict abortion. Even if passed by the Senate, the bill has little chance of clearing the House of Representatives, WNS said.
This year alone, 21 states have enacted abortion restrictions, according to WNS.