Constitutional amendments under consideration:
Source: news reports
HOW THEY VOTED
This is how Hamilton County commissioners voted on the resolution to support passage of Amendment 1.
Chester Bankston: Yes
Greg Beck: No
Tim Boyd: Abstain
Randy Fairbanks: Yes
Joe Graham: Pass
Marty Haynes: Yes
Warren Mackey: No
Sabrena Smedley: Yes
Jim Fields: Yes
The actual text of Amendment 1 is as follows:
Shall Article I, of the Constitution of Tennessee be amended by adding the following language as a new, appropriately designated section:
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.
A majority of Hamilton County commissioners say they had no business entering the statewide debate over a controversial constitutional amendment to give the General Assembly power to regulate abortion.
But that didn't stop them from voting in support of it Wednesday.
After brief but impassioned comments from each commissioner -- before the uncommonly large audience got to speak -- commissioners voted 5-2 to pass the resolution expressing "agreement and support" for the adoption of Amendment No. 1.
Commissioners Greg Beck and Warren Mackey voted against the amendment, saying it was not the commission's place to endorse or decry a statewide ballot issue. Commissioners Tim Boyd and Joe Graham shared that sentiment, but they abstained rather than casting votes.
Commissioner Chester Bankston also said he didn't believe the commission should hear the measure but voted in favor of it anyway, citing personal convictions.
"I think this resolution should have never been brought to the County Commission, but I'm pro-life," Bankston said.
After the vote, commissioners heard 20 minutes of cheers and jeers from a slew of residents who supported and opposed their votes.
Charlie Wysong, a local pastor and anti-abortion activist, praised the commissioners who voted yes, saying it was imperative that commissioners "ensure that the moral issues are attended to."
But another clergyman, Brian Merritt, evangelist at Mercy Junction Presbyterian, said commissioners were out of line. Government should not seek to influence its people -- particularly with regard to religious values, he said.
"Separation of church and state preceded the Constitution in this country. And I believe strongly that a Hamilton County Commission board does not vote and impose evangelical and fundamentalist theological views on their citizenship," Merritt said.
County resident Wendi Morgan told commissioners they did the right thing in supporting the regulation of abortion. She opposed abortion in favor of adoption.
"Life is precious, whether it is inside the womb or outside of the womb," she said.
But Ann Coulter, a volunteer board member for the Chattanooga Women's Fund, said she was "appalled at the drop-of-the-hat nature" in which the commission made its decision.
She said the women's fund deliberated for a year before it took a position opposing Amendment 1, because of "the complex seriousness of the issue."
"Somehow, you were able to cover that same ground in one short morning and put this issue on your agenda, and in another short morning deliberate on it. We took a year to deliberate the issues in the actual wording of this amendment -- rape, incest and the life of a mother who's pregnant."
Coulter asked if the commissioners would vote to support or oppose the other three constitutional amendments on the ballot in November.
Chairman Jim Fields, who placed the resolution on the agenda, said after the meeting he did not know of any intention to do so.
Asked whether the audience should have been allowed to speak before the vote, Fields said that was something the commission may need to consider.
"As far as I know, for any meeting I've attended, we've never had people from the audience speak on a resolution. Usually folks get their comments during an agenda session. That's kind of the way it's always been, but maybe something we should address," Fields said.
CONVICTION OR PUBLIC INFLUENCE
The hot-button item found its way to the agenda after Fields added it last week at a constituent's request. But at the start of Wednesday's meeting -- after he and fellow commissioners had been bombarded by calls and emails for and against the resolution -- he tried to pull the issue.
"It was coming out of the committee with no recommendation, so I was going to move to pull it," Fields said after the meeting.
But Commissioner Randy Fairbanks moved to pass it, and Commissioner Marty Haynes seconded.
Haynes said personally disparaging, untruthful emails had been circulated about him after he did not move to support the item in committee last week. But he said he was voicing his personal support on moral grounds.
"I'm not any more important than anyone else in this room. My opinion matters one vote in November," Haynes said. "We are taking a public stand this morning on a matter that is private to a lot of people. I don't think how we vote on this one way or the other will change one vote in Hamilton County or change one person's mind."
David Fowler, president of Family Action Council of Tennessee, a nonprofit that advocates for socially and religiously conservative political issues, said he was one of many people sending emails to commissioners and local church leaders.
"I sent out an email to some select friends that reported that last week, when it was asked whether the resolution should be recommended for or against passage, that nobody made a motion for or against it," Fowler said.
But he said he didn't intend for his emails to be harassing in nature.
He said the commission was right to pass the measure on behalf of women in Hamilton County.
"The delegation asks appropriate governing bodies to take action they believe to be in the best interest of the community. In this case, the governing body was the people," Fowler said.
Despite peoples' differing philosophies about government positions in popular votes or controversial topics, Vanderbilt University law professor James Blumstein says the commissioners were within their First Amendment rights.
"Basically, government institutions can make statements of preference and points of view. They are not legislating here, they are expressing an endorsement. That's part of freedom of speech," Blumstein said. "I don't think this is something that crosses any line. I think there is a question of wisdom and judgment in terms of how often a government agency should get involved in this kind of thing."
CHOICES Pregnancy Resource Center also praised commissioners for passing the measure. According to the center, Hamilton has joined 19 other counties to pass measures in support of Amendment 1.
Contact staff writer Louie Brogdon at email@example.com, @glbrogdoniv on Twitter or at 423-757-6481.