In the climax to a decade-long struggle by the pro-life movement, the state House decided overwhelmingly Friday to ask voters to decide whether to amend the state constitution to strip away abortion rights.
The 76-18 House vote is the final one necessary to put the question on the statewide 2014 ballot, and the chamber burst into applause as it was recorded.
“Without life, there is no liberty,” Rep. Bill Dunn, R-Knoxville, told the House. “That’s the heart of the matter.”
It was 14 votes more than the two-thirds required. Last month, the Senate also voted by a super majority for SJR127, as the anti-abortion amendment to the state constitution is known.
For years, Democrats were able to bottle up SJR127 in the House. But with Republicans in firm control of the legislature after last year’s elections, passage was such a foregone conclusion that few lawmakers even bothered to speak against the measure Friday.
“If this amendment goes on,” Rep. Mike Kernell, D-Memphis, argued, “the legislature is no longer prohibited from violating someone’s body and actually requiring abortions.”
The House defeated an amendment proposed by Rep. Gary Odom, D-Nashville, to protect the right to abortions in the case of rape or incest or to save the life of the mother.
Even if voters agree to amend the constitution, abortion still would be legal in Tennessee as long as Roe v. Wade stands. But its proponents said the amendment is needed to nullify a 2000 state Supreme Court ruling that found greater abortion rights in the state constitution than exist in the U.S. Constitution.
If voters agree to amend the constitution, it would give the legislature the right to enact what proponents call reasonable restrictions on abortion, such as a 24- or 48-hour waiting period before an abortion can be performed.