Abortion rights protesters enter Tennessee Capitol guarded by state troopers

State troopers arrive at Tennessee Capitol as protesters continue loud shouting. Photo by Rick Locker.
photo A crowd gathers near the state Capitol in Nashville for a march and rally in support of abortion rights.

NASHVILLE - Dozens of abortion rights protesters entered the state Capitol this afternoon shouting "My body. My choice!" as Tennessee lawmakers convened for the 109th General Assembly.

The protesters, mostly women, were part of a rally against planned bills in the GOP-led legislature restricting abortions.

Protesters originally entered on the first floor, near Republican Gov. Bill Haslam's offices.

More than 20 Tennessee state troopers initially barred their way to the stairwell leading to the second floor where the house and senate chambers are located and where lawmakers were being sworn in.

As a man with a drum pounded and protesters demanded to go upstairs, troopers let a number go.

The house and senate concluded their business for the day around 2 p.m.

About a dozen or so young women chanted "pro-choice, pro-family" as senators streamed out of the chamber.

Senate Speaker Pro Tempore Bo Watson, R-Hixson, watched, smiling.

"Welcome to America," Watson said when asked by a reporter what he thought about the protest. "That's fine. It's part of the process."

Once the legislators left, so did the protesters.

"It's America at it's best," said Senate Republican Majority Leader Mark Norris.

Over the next several months senators and representatives will consider issues ranging from abortion restrictions to Republican Gov. Bill Haslam's proposed Insure Tennessee program, which would use federal Medicaid dollars to extend health coverage to some 200,000 low-income Tennesseans.