Tennessee is currently ranked fifth for out-of-state abortions in the U.S. Tennessee state government permits services not available in other states, but those rights are on the chopping block.
This time next year, the state will vote on the nullification of a 2000 Tennessee Supreme Court ruling which protects the reproductive freedom of women in Tennessee. This referendum is known as Amendment 1.
Amendment 1, if passed, would read: "Nothing in [the Constitution of Tennessee] 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, incest or when necessary to save the life of the mother."
In the 2000 ruling, it was concluded women in Tennessee boast more abortion-related freedoms than those allotted in the U.S. Federal Constitution: the right to privacy to make decisions regarding abortion, the right to have an abortion in the second trimester outside of a hospital, the right to avoid a mandated wait period, and the right to have an emergency abortion in the face of life-threatening circumstances.
Lorene Steffes, a volunteer at Tennessee Right to Life and board member of the "Yes on 1" campaign to support Amendment 1, stated the 2000 Supreme Court ruling "fundamentally changed our state constitution without the consent of the people."
"Because of this ruling, we have become a destination state for abortions," Steffes said.
Amendment 1 would not actually restrict the accessibility of abortions, Steffes explained, but instead eliminate implicit protection to women.
"What it does is restore the constitution back to what it was in 2000 and makes the constitution neutral on abortion," Steffes said.
Although this amendment would not and could not ban abortions, it would dissolve the restrictions against further constitutional amendments concerning reproductive rights.
"The amendment is reversing the decision," Steffes said. "There is no fundamental right to abortion in our state, and it doesn't say that you can't have one. It just says that there is no constitutional right in our state..."
Even so, Steffes said she would not object to further restrictions.
"We believe there are some restrictions that are needed in the abortion industry," Steffes said.
In opposition, some organizations are wary of the potential future effects of the amendment on rights of women.
"We as Planned Parenthood are incredibly concerned with this amendment," said Tory Mills, the external affairs coordinator of Planned Parenthood of Middle & East Tennessee. "We feel that this is a very personal decision, and no one should get to make it for a woman. She should be able to sit down and have this conversation with her family without the influence of politicians.
"... We are very concerned with the accessibility of these services to women who wish to have the procedure. We do not support the amendment."
Corinne Rovetti, a family nurse practitioner at the Knoxville Center for Reproductive Health Inc., said she views the potential nullification as the "greatest violation of privacy and individual liberties imaginable."
"The legislatures would have more control over women's vaginas rather than assault weapons," Rovetti said. "It's very disturbing. ... Generally, a constitution is amended to increase and expand rights. That is the whole idea about the constitution, individual liberty and freedom. So it is a huge irony."
With many objections hinging on the inappropriate use of "state money," Rovetti sought to dispel false notions about how abortions are funded.
"There is no state funding," Rovetti said. "So it's legislation that is misleading, incorrect, and just adds to create confusion for people. ... People say, 'Well, we don't want the state funding abortions.' Well, the state doesn't."
Concerned for the value of women in Tennessee and threats to individual privacy, Rovetti said she worries about the societal implications of the referendum.
"This is 2013. When we think in terms of 'how far women have come,' how far have we come?" Rovetti said. "This is a real question of trying to peel back and address our ability to make the decisions that are right for us. ... Nobody likes abortion, but it is reality."
To learn more about Tennessee Right to Life's "Yes on 1" campaign, visit http://trlknox.org/.
To learn more about a coalition supporting reproductive freedom in Tennessee, visit http://healthyandfreeTN.org/.