SJR 127, a resolution to offer voters the chance to amend the Tennessee Constitution regarding abortion rights, was approved on Monday by the Senate in a 24-8 vote. It had previously won approval with a simple majority in both houses of the 106th General Assembly.
The measure will now move to the House, where, this time, it must also pass with a two-thirds majority in order to be put before voters in the 2014 election. (Why not 2012? Keep reading.)
Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, who as Speaker presided over the vote, praised today’s action in a statement:
For years liberal Democratic parliamentary maneuvering has thwarted passage of this resolution which has enjoyed strong support from majorities both inside and outside the legislature. I am proud to be a part of the pro-life Republican majority that will finally bring an end to judicial activist usurpation and put this measure to a vote of the people.
Democrat Betsy Phillips wasn’t so sure about the amendment’s legal footing. On her Twitter page, she noted that “by passing this amendment, we’ve brought the state constitution into conflict with itself, I think.” Phillips clarified this thought with a reference to Planned Parenthood v. Sundquist, in which the Tennessee Supreme Court decided that the Constitution’s right to privacy includes a woman’s right to terminate a pregnancy. “I think the courts are going to have to decide if privacy rights outweigh abortion non-rights or not,” wrote Phillips.
The amendment itself:
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.
What’s next? As stated above, the proposed amendment must pass with a two-thirds majority (at least 66 votes) in the House of Representatives. Following that, provided it passes, and does not get vetoed by Governor Haslam, the ballot in the next gubernatorial election (November 2014) will include a referendum containing the amendment language. Constitution amendments are decided by voters in gubernatorial elections only, presumably to ensure a high turnout.
This ballot measure will pass if it receives a number of votes equal to half of the total votes cast for governor, plus one. If that happens, the state constitution will be amended.