New era for abortion in Tennessee; voters open door for more regulation

photo Signs outside a polling place support different opinions on an amendment to the Tennessee Constitution on Tuesday in Nashville.

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Tennessee voters on Tuesday opened the door for the biggest changes to the state's abortion rules in more than a decade.

With the approval of constitutional Amendment 1, the Legislature will be empowered to pass more regulations on abortions -- an ability that was deterred by a 2000 Tennessee Supreme Court ruling that said the state constitution was more protective of a woman's right to an abortion than the U.S. Constitution.

No more.

As of press time, the amendment was leading by a margin of 53 percent to 47 percent, though voters in Hamilton County and six other counties rejected the ballot initiative. Volunteer State voters also approved three other constitutional amendments. Amendment 2 gives lawmakers more control over judicial appointments, while Amendment 3 bans a statewide income tax. Amendment 4 allows veterans groups to hold charitable gaming events.

Currently, Tennessee has some abortion regulations, including the requirement of parental consent for minors and a requirement that physicians who perform abortions must have admitting privileges to hospitals. But with the approval of the constitutional amendment, legislators will be empowered to follow the same course as Texas, Louisiana, Alabama, and Mississippi, all of which are quickly losing abortion providers.

Tennessee could regulate -- and thus limit -- abortions by mandating certain standards for abortion facilities, require mandatory ultrasounds for abortion patients or enact waiting periods on abortions.

"I don't want to see somebody get in a situation where they're in a place that's not licensed or not regulated and end up having problems, because you're putting the mother's life at risk also," said Shelby County voter Angela Goekler, who voted in favor of the amendment.

Williamson County voter Barbara Lamb voted against the amendment, remembering the horror stories of coat hanger abortions before the Supreme Court's marquee Roe v. Wade decision in 1973.

"I think this is moving us back before Roe v. Wade," she said.

Amendment 1 was the most hard-fought of four amendments approved Tuesday. But there was one thing both supporters and opponents of the four constitutional changes could agree on: The language on the ballot was downright confusing.

"My gosh, I'm very close to having my Ph.D. and it's very hard to read those things," said Britnie Kane, a graduate student at Vanderbilt University's Peabody College.

Paula Meyers wasn't going to vote in this election cycle after sitting out the 2012 presidential election out of frustration with candidates. But she heard all the talk about the constitutional amendments and decided to head for the polls at Red Bank Cumberland Presbyterian Church.

Even after learning about the amendments on the radio and in the newspaper, she found the language on the ballot confusing.

"If I didn't understand, then I just didn't vote on it," she said.

But others reported doing their best.

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Sandra Perkins read up on the amendments before voting.

"There's just like two words in there," she said. "It's just a little bit misleading if someone hadn't read on it."

Abortion opponents positioned the amendment as a safeguard for women and children.

But Signal Mountain's Sandy Lusk, who campaigned against the ballot measure, said Tuesday's results take away a woman's right to privacy.

"The reason I voted no and so many people voted no is this is a private decision," Lusk said. "Issues such as cancer and medical problems that are going on with women are not the business of our politicians. And I don't think politicians should be involved in these private decisions. These are not issues for government. These are issues between a woman and her doctor."

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

Contact Staff Writer Kevin Hardy at or 423-757-6249.