What’s Next For Tennessee Abortion Laws: New Regulations, New Resistance
At the Vote No On 1 election night party, volunteers look dejected as the president of Planned Parenthood announces that the amendment has passed. The Yes On 1 campaign sent out a victory email soon after that. Credit: Emily Siner / WPLN

What’s Next For Tennessee Abortion Laws: New Regulations, New Resistance

At the Vote No On 1 election night party, volunteers look dejected as the president of Planned Parenthood announces that the amendment passed. The Yes On 1 campaign sent out a victory email soon after afterward. Credit: Emily Siner / WPLN
At the Vote No On 1 election night party, volunteers look dejected as the president of Planned Parenthood announces that the amendment passed. The Yes On 1 campaign sent out a victory email soon afterward. Credit: Emily Siner / WPLN

The Yes on 1 campaign is hailing the passage of the abortion amendment as an “underdog victory.” Amendment opponents say it was an “uphill battle” that left them disappointed. Both sides expect to see new regulations on abortion proposed by the General Assembly next year.

Supporters of Amendment 1 say they want to see a mandatory waiting period before the procedure and a requirement that all abortion clinics be licensed as surgical centers. These laws were on the books before a state Supreme Court case struck them down as unconstitutional — prompting legislators to propose changing the constitution.

David Fowler was among the first to do so. The former state senator proposed a version of Amendment 1 more than a decade ago and is now president of the Family Action Council of Tennessee, which has been raising money for the Yes on 1 campaign.

Fowler says he expects lawmakers to stay “fairly conservative” on legislation: “not going as far as some people who have tested the water in other states,” he says, “because it would be rather self-defeating to pass an amendment, and then pass laws that can’t be enforced because they’re hung up in litigation.”

One example he gives: Tennessee might consider a 48-hour waiting period but, he expects, likely not a 72-hour waiting period, as there is in Missouri.

But Jeff Teague, head of the Planned Parenthood of Middle Tennessee, calls laws like the mandatory waiting period “draconian.” He says he welcomes any new legislation as a result of the amendment that protects women’s health — but, in his opinion, the potential regulations that have been suggested so far don’t fall into that category.

Teague spent election night with the Vote No On 1 campaign, whose party grew increasingly somber as the hours wore on. The amendment held a consistent 5-point lead throughout the evening.

Finally, a teary-eyed Teague took the mic.

“The voters of Tennessee chose to approve Amendment 1 by the slimmest of margins. We need to be proud of what we’ve accomplished,” he says. “The fight is not over. It’s going to be a different fight. They’ve made us stronger by this.”

Planned Parenthood and the American Civil Liberties Union have fought previous Tennessee abortion regulations in court — often successfully. But neither has said yet whether they’re preparing to litigate next year. Leaders from both groups say the first step now is to galvanize the public and persuade lawmakers to prevent new legislation from passing.

Anything that’s passed by the General Assembly next year would go into effect in July.

Amendment 1 passed with 53 percent of the vote — despite opponents raising nearly $4 million trying to defeat it and outspending amendment supporters about two to one.

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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