Cash key in battle over abortion amendment to TN constitution

Cash key in battle over abortion amendment to TN constitution

April 14th, 2014 by The Tennessean in Local Regional News

Abortion debate tile

Photo by WRCB-TV Channel 3 /Times Free Press.

NASHVILLE - With seven months to go before Tennessee voters settle the question, the campaign to remove abortion protections from the state's constitution is running fundraising circles around the group trying to keep things as they are.

Abortion opponents have raised more than $300,000 toward the passage of Amendment 1, a ballot measure that would amend the constitution to make it harder to get an abortion here. Abortion rights advocates have raised $4,000, according to finance disclosure forms filed with the state last week.

Both "Yes on 1" and the "Vote No on One" say they are preparing vigorous voter education campaigns.

A "yes" vote would add this language: "Nothing in this Constitution secures or protects a right to abortion or requires the funding of an abortion." Opponents say that would lead to onerous new laws for women seeking abortions. Supporters say it would allow lawmakers to pass common-sense restrictions that other states have already enacted.

A "no" vote would leave Tennessee's constitution unchanged. The Tennessee Supreme Court found in 2000 that the constitution guarantees women a fundamental right to abortion. "A woman's right to terminate her pregnancy is a vital part of the right to privacy guaranteed by the Tennessee Constitution," the opinion said.

"We are going to be waging an aggressive campaign because we know we can defeat this amendment," said Jeff Teague, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Middle and East Tennessee, which along with ACLU of Tennessee and Planned Parenthood Greater Memphis Region is coordinating the "Vote No on One" campaign. "We know it's going to be expensive, but we believe we will have all the resources."

Brian Harris, president of Tennessee Right to Life, said the "Yes on 1" campaign's goal is to raise $2.5 million. Last fall, before the campaign was formally launched, the group raised approximately $250,000 at a fundraiser headlined by Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey. The money was raised through a separate Yes on 1 entity, a nonprofit allowed under federal tax rules to spend money on campaigns. Harris said the nonprofit will use the funds collected for election-related education campaigns.

The Yes on 1 campaign received an additional $58,160 in the first quarter of the year from individual and agency donors, according to a disclosure statement filed with the Bureau of Ethics and Campaign Finance.

"Once people understand the difference between victory and defeat is writing a check, we know we will be able to raise much more," Harris said.

Harris said the campaign is reaching out to pastors and churches across the state for support. By the end of April, Harris said they hope to distribute a 3-minute video to churches called "Silence" to help persuade voters.

Teague said he is unsurprised at the amount of money raised by the "Yes" campaign, noting it started months earlier.

Reach Anita Wadhwani at 615-259-8092 and on Twitter @AnitaWadhwani.