Here’s Everything We Know About Tennessee’s Amendment 1
After months of campaigning and millions of dollars spent, voters will decide Tuesday whether or not the Tennessee Legislature should have more ability to regulate abortion. Credit: Blake Farmer / WPLN

Here’s Everything We Know About Tennessee’s Amendment 1

After months of campaigning and millions of dollars spent, voters will decide Tuesday whether or not the Tennessee Legislature should have more ability to regulate abortion. Credit: Blake Farmer / WPLN
After months of campaigning and millions of dollars spent, voters will decide Tuesday whether or not the Tennessee Legislature should have more ability to regulate abortion. Credit: Blake Farmer / WPLN

Editor’s note: For information on Amendments 2, 3 and 4, please scroll down to the Related Posts section.

The fight around the abortion amendment has raised millions of dollars and caught nationwide attention. It’s been the subject of numerous TV ads and even more political emails. The number of statistics, court cases and changes in law regarding abortion in Tennessee can be overwhelming for voters going to the polls tomorrow. To help you navigate the slew of information, we did a little work for you.

Let’s start from the beginning: What is this amendment all about?

At its most condensed: This amendment would expand the power of legislators to pass more abortion regulations.

The Yes on 1 campaign says the state needs to be able to pass abortion regulations that make the procedure safer. The No on 1 campaign says the amendment would lead to new laws that won’t make abortions any safer, just harder to access.

Wait, why a constitutional amendment? Why can’t the legislature just pass more laws if it wants to?

This amendment was proposed as a reaction to a state Supreme Court case, Planned Parenthood v. Sundquist. in 2000. Before your eyes glaze over, we’ll break it down for you: Essentially, it raised the bar for abortion regulations — it said the legislature could only pass narrow restrictions that explicitly protect the health of a pregnant women. This amendment spells out that there’s no right to an abortion in Tennessee. Both sides agree that it would lead to more regulations on abortion.

The legislature can already pass laws on abortion, and in fact, it has passed new regulations since 2000. But amendment supporters say the legislature is confined by the court’s ruling.

So what kinds of laws are currently on the books in Tennessee?

In Tennessee, as in the rest of the country, abortion is legal and will always be legal unless the U.S. Supreme Court reverses the 1973 decision Roe v. Wade. But each state has its own set of guidelines on abortion. Here are the regulations specific to Tennessee:

  • Physicians must report all abortions to the state health department. That data is available here.
  • Physicians have to be present when abortions are performed.
  • Minors must have a parent or guardian sign off on the abortion, or else retain a court order.
  • Patients have to sign a consent form prior to the procedure.
  • Abortion clinics have to post a conspicuous sign on the wall with specific language saying it’s against the law to coerce someone into having an abortion.
  • Physicians must have admitting privileges to a hospital either in the county where they’re performing abortions, or in an adjacent county.
  • No physician or hospital has to perform an abortion.
  • Medicare won’t pay for abortions in Tennessee, and the state won’t fund them either —unless the pregnancy resulted from rape or incest, or if the life of the mother is at stake.

What else would legislators want to pass?

State courts have struck down a number of statutes that Amendment 1 supporters have said they want to reinstate. For example, the court struck down a 48-hour waiting period in between getting information about an abortion and having the procedure. Amendment supporters say a waiting period would give women the necessary time to think about their decision. Opponents say this would limit abortion access to women who have to take off work or travel long distances to see a doctor.

Patients still have to sign an informed consent form before getting a procedure, but the information they’re given isn’t dictated as heavily by the state. Amendment opponents say the state would force doctors to tell patients untrue information about the procedure.

Since 2002, some abortion clinics are no longer required to be licensed as an “ambulatory treatment surgical center” — a medical facility that’s licensed by the state and is more regulated than a standard doctor’s office. Amendment supporters say abortion clinics need this licensure so that the state can inspect them on a regular basis. Opponents say abortions are already a safe procedure — they frequently point to a CDC report on abortion statistics — and that it’s not necessary to force clinics to become surgical centers.

So, if abortion clinics don’t have to be surgical centers, how regulated are they?

Women can get abortions in one of three places: a hospital, an ambulatory treatment surgical center or a private physician’s office. The state can’t tell the public which facilities or doctors perform abortions, due to confidentiality laws. But according to Planned Parenthood of Middle Tennessee, there are seven abortion clinics: two in Memphis, two in Nashville, two in Knoxville and one in Bristol. Four of them are licensed as surgical centers.

The Yes on 1 campaign has claimed that abortion clinics are less regulated in Tennessee than nail salons. It’s a reference to the fact that abortions can be performed in private physicians’ offices, which do not have to be licensed by the state (whereas nail salons do). The No on 1 campaign counterclaims that the physicians performing abortions must hold a valid license from the Tennessee Board of Medical Examiners.

How many abortions are happening in Tennessee?

In 2012, there were 12,122 abortions in Tennessee. The state doesn’t share the breakdown of where they were performed, but Planned Parenthood in Nashville recently told reporters that it performed about 3,200 abortions a year. Women can choose either a medical or surgical abortion — a pill vs. a “suction curettage” procedure. More information here.

Alright. I think I understand what’s going on. So… which side is right?

Hey, that’s for you to decide.

OK, if I have to decide which side is right, at least tell me: Who’s backing each side?

As we learn in Intro to Journalism: Follow the money.

The Yes on 1 campaign has raised about $1 million, with the help of pharmaceutical company CEO John Gregory and Tennessee church groups. The No on 1 campaign has raised more than triple that amount, with a huge chunk coming from Planned Parenthood groups around the country.

Now, where non-donating Tennesseans stand is a murkier matter: Most recently, an MTSU poll found that a significant number of voters were still undecided.

What else can I learn?

Here are the highlights of our Amendment 1 reporting, all in one place.

Behind Amendment 1: How The Fight Over Abortion Laws In Tennessee Began
We explain how a series of court cases led to Tennessee becoming relatively protective of abortion rights, angering some conservative lawmakers.

Poll Shows Many Tennesseans Undecided On Abortion Amendment
An explanation — and fun interactive chart — of the latest poll numbers.

Why Are Tennessee Churches Donating Only To The ‘Yes On 1′ Campaign?
Clergy members have spoken out on both sides of the abortion debate, but the Yes On 1 campaign is the only side that received money from them.

In Putnam County, Amendment 1 Is Bringing Voters To The Polls
The hot-button issue this election? Forget the gubernatorial race.

Will The Amendments Pass? Depends On How Many Vote For Governor
We look at a quirky constitutional passage that could affect the outcome of the vote.

Anti-Abortion Amendment to Go on Ballot in 2014
From the WPLN archive: Our report when the amendment was approved by the legislature in 2011.

We think a lot about how we report this news for you. WPLN’s Emily Siner even had a small existential crisis on air about it.


What Is Amendment 1?

Here’s the full text of the proposed amendment:

[box]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.[/box]

Emily Siner

Emily Siner is an enterprise reporter at WPLN. She has worked at the Los Angeles Times and NPR headquarters in Washington, D.C., and her written work was recently published in Slices Of Life, an anthology of literary feature writing. Born and raised in the Chicago area, she is a graduate from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. On Twitter: @SinerSays
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