Appeals Court Upholds Tennessee Measure Removing 'Right to Abortion' From State Constitution

Posted: Jan 09, 2018 5:35 PM

The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously upheld a 2014 vote in favor of a controversial amendment to the Tennessee state constitution Tuesday, which said nothing in the constitution protects a “right to abortion.”

According to Amendment 1, nothing in the state constitution "secures or protects a right to abortion or requires the funding of an abortion" and state lawmakers may "enact, amend, or repeal statutes regarding abortion."

The lawsuit against the amendment claimed that its proponents had engaged in “a ‘coordinated scheme’ that ‘incentivized proponents of Amendment 1 to forego their own right to vote in the governor’s race so as to add ‘yes’ votes without increasing the number of votes needed to surpass a majority of votes cast in the governor’s race.’”

For constitutional amendment votes, elections officials in Tennessee check first to see if there's a majority vote in favor and then check that the amount in favor is more than half of the votes in the governor's race. 

As part of a three-judge panel, U.S. Circuit Judge David W. McKeague reversed an April 2016 lower court’s decision and upheld the vote-counting process.

“State officials’ vote-counting method did not impair any voter’s freedom and ability to participate equally in the election,” McKeague wrote in his decision. “There is no basis in the district court record for finding that any particular plaintiff’s, or any particular voter’s, right to vote for or against Amendment 1, or right to vote for governor or not, was hindered or burdened (or even treated differently, for that matter) by any actions of the state officials.”

 “Plaintiffs’ arguments amount to little more than a complaint that the campaigns in support of Amendment 1, operating within the framework established by state law, turned out to be more successful than the campaigns against Amendment 1,” he added.

"Today's ruling is vindication of the state's amendment process and victory for the thousands of pro-life Tennesseans who sacrificed to see Amendment 1 passed," Brian Harris, president of Tennessee Right to Life, said in a statement respoponding to the decision.

"This opinion confirms what we have known all along," Tennessee Secretary of State Tre Hargett. "Tennesseans should take pride in knowing their votes are counted in a fair, impartial and trustworthy manner."