NASHVILLE, Tenn. - Anti-abortion rights activists are planning a high-dollar fundraiser next week to kick off their campaign for a constitutional amendment next fall that would give lawmakers more power to restrict access to abortions.
Republican state Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey is hosting a reception and dinner at a Nashville hotel Monday to support the proposed amendment, which seeks to void a 2000 state Supreme Court ruling. The court threw out mandatory 48-hour waiting periods for abortions, along with requirements that clinics provide detailed information about the procedure and that all but first-term abortions be performed in hospitals.
The ruling prevented lawmakers from re-enacting those laws and from passing other restrictions. For example, Republican lawmakers this year considered a bill to require ultrasounds before abortions, but the proposal was delayed pending the outcome of next year's referendum. One of that measure's main sponsors, Republican state Sen. Jim Tracy of Shelbyville, is running for Congress this year.
In an invitation to the fundraiser, Ramsey urges supporters to pay between $1,000 for two tickets and up to $50,000 to be named chairman of the effort to stop Tennessee from being what he called an "abortion destination" for people from neighboring states. Organizers said they have already raised more than $250,000.
"The passage of this amendment will restore the constitutional silence on abortion that was usurped by liberal judges and allow Tennessee to place reasonable, common sense restrictions on the abhorrent practice of abortion," Ramsey said in an email to The Associated Press.
Jeff Teague, president of Planned Parenthood of Middle and East Tennessee, said abortion rights advocates will also mount a vigorous campaign against the amendment.
"It's absolutely going to be a fight," he said in a phone interview. "It's been our experience that when people find out about it they get very concerned. They get concerned about privacy rights and an attack on women's rights"
The full language of the proposed constitutional amendment reads: "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."
Teague called the language of the proposed amendment "deliberately confusing people to think there are exceptions."
Brian Harris, president of Tennessee Right to Life, said his group will work to counter any opposition to the amendment.
"We're going to work very hard that every pro-life Tennessean is turned out on election day and that we give everyone who's undecided on the issue every reason to vote in support of amendment," he said.
The campaigns surrounding the abortion referendum come at the same time as a legal fight over restrictions enacted by Texas lawmakers this year.
A federal judge ruled Monday that key elements of the Texas law place an unconstitutional burden on women seeking to end a pregnancy. They include a provision requiring abortion doctors to have admitting privileges at a hospital less than 30 miles away. It would have led to about one-third of the state's 38 clinics that perform abortions to close.
Federal judges in Wisconsin, Kansas, Mississippi and Alabama also have found problems with state laws prohibiting doctors from conducting abortions if they lack hospital admitting privileges.
Tennessee lawmakers last year enacted a requirement for physicians performing abortions to hold hospital privileges in either the home county of the woman seeking an abortion or an adjacent county.
"It's obvious it has the same intended purpose, which is to put some unnecessary restrictions on abortion providers," Teague said.
The law has caused clinics providing abortion services to close in Knoxville and Memphis, though no legal challenge has been filed in the state, Teague said.
Ramsey, the Senate speaker, disagreed, calling the law a "common sense regulation most rational people on both sides of the abortion issue accept as necessary and proper."