Federal court of appeals upholds Amendment 1, strikes down Planned Parenthood challenge

Pro-life supporters in Tennessee scored a major victory Jan. 9 when the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a lower-court order and ruled the state’s recent constitutional amendment on abortion is legally binding.

In a 27-page opinion, 6th Circuit judges ruled that Amendment 1, approved by Tennessee voters in 2014, stands as written and can take effect. The judges said the vote-counting method used by Tennessee in the Nov. 4, 2014, state election was reasonable and constitutional.

“The subject matter of Amendment 1, touching on abortion rights, is politically sensitive and controversial. The amendment’s adoption was closely contested in the 2014 election and, though it appeared to have been approved by the electorate (approximately 53 percent of the votes cast), its status has remained unresolved pending this appeal. In this litigation, treating matters of process, the issues raised have been fully aired and vigorously disputed. Although the subject of abortion rights will continue to be controversial in Tennessee and across our nation, it is time for uncertainty surrounding the people’s 2014 approval and ratification of Amendment 1 to be put to rest,” the 6th Circuit judges wrote.

Eight voters opposing Amendment 1, including the former board chair for Planned Parenthood of Middle and East Tennessee, filed suit in federal court on Nov. 7, 2014, to challenge the voting results. They claimed the process used by the state to tally votes was unconstitutional.

Amendment 1, which was ratified by 52.6 percent of Tennessee voters in the November 2014 election, added language to the Tennessee Constitution empowering the state legislature to enact, amend, or repeal state statutes on abortion.

The amendment was placed on the ballot by the Tennessee General Assembly, and as a legislatively referred constitutional amendment,

Amendment 1 had to earn a majority of votes of those voting on the amendment as well as a majority of votes from those casting ballots for governor to take effect.

Based on election results, 728,751 votes were cast for Amendment 1. Opposition to the measure was 47.4 percent, or 656,427 votes. To become law, the amendment had to be approved by 50 percent of voters casting ballots in the governor’s race.

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