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NASHVILLE - The battle over a proposed Tennessee constitutional amendment aimed at giving state lawmakers more power to regulate abortions has drawn big contributions for both sides in a fight that has drawn national attention.

But abortion rights supporters had the decided edge during the third quarter, raising more than twice as much as proponents of Amendment 1 did.

The "Vote No on 1 Tennessee" reported raising nearly $1.6 million and spending $335,821 between July 1 and Sept. 30. The group had $1,587,790 in cash on hand as of Sept. 30, according to spokesman Stephen Hershkowitz.

Amendment supporters, organized as "Tennesseans for Yes On 1," raised $631,576, Tennessee Right To Life President Brian Harris told The Tennessean newspaper.

Early voting in the Nov. 4 election starts Wednesday. Fundraising reports on the Amendment 1 issue were due Friday, but the latest reports weren't available on the state's Registry of Election Finance website. It was not clear why.

Hershkowitz said the money raised so far "shows just how concerned Tennesseans are" about this "historically dangerous" amendment. He said 97 percent of contributions came from Tennesseans and more than 80 percent were $100 or less.

"More and more Tennessee women and their families are standing up against government interference in their most private medical decisions," he said.

Harris told the Tennessean their organization represents a "grassroots effort from Memphis to Mountain City" that is "working to restore the voice of Tennesseans and to reinstate common sense protections so that we are no longer known as an abortion destination."

David Fowler, president of the Family Action Council of Tennessee, said in an interview Saturday that supporters of Amendment 1 will "absolutely be competitive."

The battle has its origins in a 2000 state Supreme Court decision recognizing greater rights to abortion services under Tennessee's Constitution than the U.S. Constitution. Fowler was a Republican state senator at the time and began pushing to change the state constitution.

Amendment 1, says "nothing in this Constitution secures or protects a right to abortion or requires the funding of an abortion." It goes on to say "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."

The No on One group last month launched a television ad featuring a doctor whose patient discovered she was pregnant the same day she learned her cancer had returned.

The woman chose to continue the pregnancy but later died, Dr. Owen Phillips said. She claimed that approval of the amendment will result in "government interference" in a woman's personal decisions.

In an op/ed piece that ran last week in the Times Free Press, Tennessee Democratic Party Chairman Roy Herron warned that if Amendment 1 passes and the U.S. Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade, "then the law in Tennessee would be whatever as few as 50 of 99 representatives and 17 of 33 senators decide."

Proponents say the anti-amendment side is misleading voters. They emphasize that the landmark Roe v. Wade decision won't be affected and state lawmakers can't ban abortions.

Last week, they launched their own TV ad, a 30-second spot showing a group of people walking with black tape over their mouths. A voice-over says the state Supreme Court ruling "silenced the right of the people to enforce reasonable regulation of abortion in our state."

Contact staff writer Andy Sher at asher@timesfreepress.com or 615-255-0550.

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