'Too close to call' on Amendment 1: Ballot measure pits abortion against big government

VOTER GUIDESee a list of candidates, proposed amendments and sample ballots at timesfreepress.com/voterguide2014.Tennessee Amendments 101

NASHVILLE - The most hard-fought of four constitutional amendments on the Tennessee ballot Tuesday pits two red state values against each other: disapproval of abortion and dislike of big government. And a new poll released Wednesday found the outcome is too close to call.

In essence, Amendment 1 would give the state Legislature more power to regulate abortions. A Vanderbilt University poll of registered voters taken in May found 71 percent of respondents opposed to that idea.

But while Tennesseans may not like the idea of giving politicians more power over their lives, many also oppose abortion.

In a different question in the Vanderbilt poll, 39 percent of respondents said they were "definitely pro-life," while only 25 percent labeled themselves as "definitely pro-choice."

A new poll by Middle Tennessee State University found 39 percent of registered voters supported the proposed amendment while 32 percent opposed it. However, another 15 percent of registered voters polled were undecided, enough to swing the vote either way. Another 14 percent either did not plan to vote on the amendment or declined to answer the question. The poll had a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.

photo Election, vote, voting tile

"I'm going to be on the edge of my seat," said MTSU poll Director Kenneth Blake.

Abortion opponents hope Tennesseans will see the amendment not as favoring politicians, but as favoring the voters who elect them. A television advertisement for the "Yes on 1" campaign shows people walking near the Tennessee Supreme Court building with duct tape over their mouths. Voters were silenced, a narrator says, by a Supreme Court decision in 2000.

That decision struck down three Tennessee laws restricting access to abortions. The justices ruled that abortion is part of a woman's fundamental right to privacy as guaranteed in the Tennessee Constitution.

"Amendment 1 will restore the voice of Tennesseans to protect women and the unborn," a narrator says.

The proposed 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."

photo Danielle Walker hands out "Vote No on 1" stickers before a Hamilton County Commission meeting Wednesdayat the Hamilton County Courthouse . The commission voted to pass a resolution in support of Tennessee Amendment 1, an amendment on the statewide ballot in November that deals with abortion.

Abortion rights supporters say the wording of that second sentence is deceptive. They portray Amendment 1 as an overreach by politicians who want to restrict abortions even in extreme circumstances. One television advertisement features the story of a woman who chose not to have an abortion despite a cancer diagnosis. The woman died while her child lived, a doctor tells the viewer. "It was her decision," the doctor says. "Amendment 1 is just government interference."

That the ballot measure has even made it to the voters is a testament to the passionate feelings of the abortion opponents who shepherded it through a 14-year struggle. But whether it passes on Election Day will partially be a function of how many people vote in an uninspiring governor's race that pits the popular incumbent Gov. Bill Haslam against Democrat Charlie Brown, a political unknown.

In order to pass, the referendum must do more than just win a majority. The "yes" votes must be at least equal in number to a majority of the votes in the governor's race.

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