Saturday, January 22, 2011

The State of Choice in Tennessee

Today is NARAL Pro-Choice America's "Blog for Choice" Day. The question asked of bloggers this year is: Given the anti-choice gains in the states and Congress, are you concerned about choice in 2011?  Here in Tennessee, a woman's right to access safe, legal abortion faces a very serious threat: proposed legislation to change Tennessee's Constitution so that women in our state are no longer guaranteed a right to abortion. The measure is called Senate Joint Resolution 127, known as SJR127.

You can read the language of the resolution here.  SJR127 is designed to circumvent a 2000 ruling by the Tennessee Supreme Court that found the Tennessee constitution provides even greater protection of women’s privacy rights regarding abortion than does the U.S. Constitution. SJR127 is an extreme measure that would take away rights and freedoms that Tennessee women currently take for granted. 

Worse yet, the language of the bill is deceptive. It implies that exceptions have been made for victims of rape and incest and for women whose lives are endangered by their pregnancies. However, the version of the bill passed by the General Assembly last session spells out no such exceptions.  If passed again by the Tennessee House and Senate by a two-thirds majority this session, SJR127 will go on the ballot in the general election in November 2014. If it is approved by a majority of voters who cast ballots in the Governor’s race, the measure will become law, allowing the Tennessee General Assembly to enact any number of unreasonable restrictions on abortion in Tennessee or even ban it outright if the Roe v. Wade decision is ever overturned.

SJR127 does nothing to increase access to contraception, prenatal care or childcare for Tennessee women or offer them any other options to make it easier for them to prevent unwanted pregnancies or carry unplanned pregnancies to term. It would allow government intrusion in the personal health care decisions of women and their families, putting bureaucrats in charge of a crucial life decision best left to a woman and her family in accordance with her own faith and personal beliefs. Women do not make the decision to have an abortion lightly, nor do they do it for frivolous reasons. 61% of women who have abortions already have at least one child, and 75% of abortion patients cite obligations to their existing children or other family members as the reason they chose abortion.

If the goal of policy-makers is to reduce the number of abortions in Tennessee, the best way is not by over-reaching government interference, but by reducing the number of unplanned pregnancies. We must provide accurate, complete, age appropriate sexuality education in our schools that encourages responsible behavior including abstinence, but also information about contraceptives. And we must take practical steps to increase access to birth control for all girls and women of child bearing age. Making contraception available and affordable reduces the number of unintended pregnancies and allows women to plan their families, while improving their health, the health of their children and their futures.

Everyone in Tennessee have a vested interest in preserving the right to access safe and legal abortion. If you believe that all people, both men and women, should be free to make personal, private health care decisions without the unnecessary intrusion of government bureaucrats, please ask your legislators to vote against SJR127.

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Memphis, Tennessee, United States
Cute, fluffy, and not afraid to leave a mess on the sidewalk!