Federal Appeals Court Upholds Tennessee Ballot Measure Stripping Right to Abortion from State Constitution

Anti-abortion activists rally outside of the Supreme Court in Washington, DC, March 2, 2016, following oral arguments in the case of Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstedt, which deals with access to abortion in Texas. The US Supreme Court on March 2 took up its most important abortion case in a …
SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images

A federal appeals court upheld the state of Tennessee’s 2014 vote in favor of a ballot measure that removed the right to an abortion from the state’s constitution.

The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld the ballot amendment known as Amendment 1 — which won by a 53 percent margin — by a 3-0 opinion.

According to the Tennessean, the measure added language to the state constitution that reads, in part: “Nothing in this Constitution secures or protects a right to abortion.”

Eight voters who opposed the measure — including the former chairman of the board of Planned Parenthood — challenged the vote’s results, demanding a recount, and won at the trial court level.

The opinion, written by Senior Judge David McKeague, a George W. Bush appointee, states:

There is no basis in the district court record for finding that any particular plaintiff’s, or any particular voter’s, right to vote for or against Amendment 1, or right to vote for governor or not, was hindered or burdened (or even treated differently, for that matter) by any actions of the State officials. It appears that every Tennessee voter was free to vote his or her conscience on the amendment and for governor. Plaintiffs have thus failed to identify a more-than-minimal burden on their right to vote that would warrant more rigorous examination than rational-basis scrutiny.

Plaintiffs’ arguments amount to little more than a complaint that the campaigns in support of Amendment 1, operating within the framework established by state law, turned out to be more successful than the campaigns against Amendment 1.

David Fowler of the Family Action Council of Tennessee applauded the federal court’s decision, reports the Chattanoogan.com.

“To our knowledge, it is the first-ever vote in the United States to overturn a ‘constitutional right’ to abortion at the state level,” he said.

U.S. Rep. Diane Black — a Republican candidate for governor in Tennessee — released the following statement after the appeals court’s decision:

I’m thrilled that the court sided with the unborn in our state and upheld Amendment 1. As a lifelong advocate for life, I was proud to sponsor Amendment 1 in Nashville and as a private citizen. I fought hard to get it passed by the voters in 2014 so that our Tennessee constitution reflects our state’s pro-life values. The unborn do not have powerful lobbyists or special interests, but as long as I have breath in my body, I will fight for them. Today is a great victory for all Tennesseans who care about life.

Tennessee Right to Life also reacted to the appeals court’s decision.

“Although the subject of abortion rights will continue to be controversial in Tennessee and across our nation, it is time for uncertainty surrounding the people’s 2014 approval and ratification of Amendment 1 to be put to rest,” the pro-life group stated.

Following the appeals court’s decision, Tennessee state Rep. Jimmy Matlock (R) announced he is drafting legislation that would defund Planned Parenthood facilities throughout the state.

“A false narrative exists in Tennessee that Planned Parenthood doesn’t receive Tennessee taxpayer dollars,” he said, as reported by governing.com. “Media and professional politicians from both sides of the aisle have reinforced this false narrative time and time again to protect their funding.”

Keri Adams, CEO of Planned Parenthood of Middle & East Tennessee, however, said the bill “is simply an attack against women.”

“It would prohibit women from accessing preventive care at Planned Parenthood health centers and take away a person’s ability to see the qualified health care provider of their choice for these sensitive services,” she said.

State lawmakers voted in 2011 to divert federal Title X family planning funds from Planned Parenthood to the state Department of Health. Matlock, however, states the abortion provider received nearly $11,000 from the state between 2011 and 2015.

The U.S. Department of Justice recently launched a formal investigation into Planned Parenthood over its alleged sale of the body parts of babies aborted in its clinics for a profit.

The case is George v. Hargett, No. 16-5563 at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit.


Please let us know if you're having issues with commenting.