State Constitution Amendment 1

Want to stop conversation and start an argument?

All it takes is one word. Abortion.

On Nov. 4, Tennesseans will vote on Amendment 1, a flash point and dangerous amendment to the state's constitution that would give the General Assembly more power over our personal and private medical decisions than we would have ourselves.

The amendment would let politicians decide whether anyone -- even a rape victim or an incest victim or a woman with dire illness -- could have an abortion. With this amendment in place, Tennessee politicians could even ban abortion with no exceptions.

As one ad aptly puts it: You don't have to be pro-choice to agree that Amendment 1 goes too far.

The 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."

Some attorneys, like 30-year lawyer Wanda Sobieski of Knoxville, say the amendment is so ambiguous that it could affect even a woman's or man's voluntary access to contraceptives or anything that prevents pregnancy -- like birth control pills or condoms.

"Could you imagine a law being passed that Viagra and similar drugs couldn't be prescribed unless they are to married (couples) only and only with the permission of their wives?" Sobieski asks.

The amendment came to being in the aftermath of a Tennessee Supreme Court ruling in 2000 that struck down laws requiring a two-day waiting period and mandatory physician-only counseling and preventing second-trimester abortions from taking place anywhere but in a hospital. The court wrote that because those provisions were not narrowly tailored to promote maternal health, they violated a woman's fundamental right to privacy as guaranteed in the Tennessee Constitution.

Abortion opponents immediately began planning to change the Constitution. From the amendment framers' perspective, the court ruling had taken away the people's right to weigh in on the abortion issue through their elected representatives. And they argue that Tennessee has become a "destination" for women seeking abortions that are harder to get in neighboring states where lawmakers have more control.

Neither claim is true. Some abortion restrictions have been in place for years. For example, in 2012 the General Assembly required physicians performing abortions to hold hospital privileges in either the home county of the woman seeking an abortion or an adjacent county. The law caused two Tennessee clinics that provided abortion services to close.

Tennessee also has a law requiring minors to obtain parental consent before an abortion, among other restrictions.

An appeals court did strike down another lawmaker-passed provision that the offices of private physicians providing abortions be licensed and inspected. Why? Because the provision singled out abortions. The court wrote there was "no medical justification for treating abortions differently than other medical procedures of similar complexity and risk," like a tonsillectomy "that carries a risk of death twice as high as that of a legal abortion."

As for Tennessee's so-called abortion-destination claim, The Associated Press recently reviewed Tennessee abortion figures and found that it seems more likely that the women coming to Tennessee for abortions are the same women who come to Tennessee to shop -- those living in small towns and suburbs near larger Tennessee border cities.

In 2000, the number of out-of-state women who got abortions in Tennessee was 3,225. The Supreme Court's ruling did not come until mid-September of that year. Thirteen years later, the number of out-of-state women getting abortions in Tennessee had risen by just 20 to 3,245, according to AP. Even taking into account the small rise in out-of-state women, the total number of abortions in Tennessee has dropped since 2000 from 17,479 to 14,216 in 2013, a decrease of about 19 percent, AP wrote.

Decisions about contraception and abortion -- like decisions about Viagra and fertility treatments -- should be made by a man or woman in consultation with their faith, their family and their doctors.

Keep Tennessee government out of your private life, and vote no on Amendment 1.

State Constitution Amendment 3

Benjamin Franklin wrote in private letters "... but in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes."

He should have added a third thing: Tennessee's contentious lawmakers. Just as this General Assembly wants to interfere in our sex lives, it also wants to shutter forever our voices and future lawmakers' voices on state taxes. That also means, of course, that we'll have less say on state services since those services are paid for with taxes.

Amendment 3, also called the Tennessee Income Tax Prohibition, is on the Nov. 4, 2014, as a legislatively referred constitutional amendment. The measure, if voters OK it, would prohibit the legislature from levying, authorizing or permitting any new state or local tax on payroll or earned personal income. Tennessee is one of eight states without a general personal income tax, but is one of two -- along with New Hampshire -- that has a tax dividend and interest income and there is a move underway to eliminate it. Meanwhile, Tennessee already is phasing out its inheritance, estate and gift taxes. That leaves only the sales tax, which is already the highest in the country. The dearth of state tax cannot help but place a higher burden of raising revenue at the local government level. And that will inevitably mean higher property taxes.

The idea, according to proponents is that such a Constitutional guarantee will send industry and businesses flocking to the Volunteer State. Funny thing, though, something that has been shown to send business screaming away from Tennessee is our bottom-tier schools and the fact that industries say over and over that they can't find employable workers here.

No one likes taxes. But we can't expect blue-light specials on cheap industrial recruitment to be a panacea if there are no clerks to stock shelves, make widgets, pack shipments and run cash registers to take in the revenue.

Don't permanently tie the hands of future lawmakers and constituents. Vote no to Amendment 3.