Should state Constitution be changed to prohibit abortion? Yes
by State Representative Bill Dunn

KnoxNews Perspectives
Knoxville News Sentinel
August 08, 2004

President Ronald Reagan, while in office, wrote a book titled "Abortion and the Conscience of a Nation" in which he stated, "Abraham Lincoln recognized that we could not survive as a free land when some men could decide that others were not fit to be free and should therefore be slaves. Likewise, we can not survive as a free nation when some men decide that others are not fit to live and should be abandoned to abortion and infanticide."

Reagan was referring to the U.S. Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision, which legalized abortion at any point during all nine months of pregnancy. This decision, which has sparked decades of debate, declared unborn babies to be nonpersons and therefore able to be killed by means so gruesome that some newspapers will not allow even a description of them. It is reminiscent of the Nazi courts which declared certain people less than human and therefore eligible for extermination by various horrific methods. In the year 2000, the Tennessee Supreme Court went even further than Roe v. Wade in its Planned Parenthood v. Sundquist ruling. The court decided 4-1 that the right to kill the unborn child was a fundamental constitutional right. Until this decision, the Tennessee Constitution was neutral on the subject of abortion, thereby allowing the duly-elected state legislators to enact commonsense regulations. Over the years, state lawmakers passed several protective measures, including an informed consent law requiring that the abortionist inform the woman of the possible dangers and consequences of the surgery (a common practice with any other medical procedure), a 48-hour waiting period to ensure that a woman could not be pressured into having an abortion, and a requirement that second-trimester abortions be performed in a hospital where proper care and equipment are available.

Although these laws undoubtedly saved the lives of many unborn children by giving their mothers the time and information to make a choice for life, they were specifically designed to protect women from being coerced into an abortion or exploited by the abortion industry that would benefit financially from the destruction of her child.

The Supreme Court decided that these regulations were suddenly unconstitutional and therefore no longer enforceable. This decision went against hundreds of years of precedence and against the will of millions of Tennessee citizens.

This ruling was so outrageous, so out of step with Tennessee values and based more on the judge'' personal feelings than the actual wording of the state Constitution that dissenting Supreme Court Justice Mickey Barker opined, "With its conclusion ... this court has consciously decided to ignore two centuries of settled constitutional interpretation concerning the proper scope of our Constitution ... this Court has taken it upon itself to suddenly change the import of this provision so as to reach its desired conclusion ... . Plainly stated, the effect of the Court's holding today is to remove from the people all power, except by constitutional amendment, to enact reasonable regulations of abortion."

The Planned Parenthood v. Sundquist ruling so shocked the sensibilities of fair-minded Tennesseans that the immediate reaction was to reclaim their Constitution by offering an amendment that would return the power to the people. Senate Joint Resolution 127 was introduced to clearly establish that the elected representatives of the people, not activist judges, would decide how abortion was regulated in Tennessee. The resolution quickly gained support in the Tennessee Senate and House, where it was sponsored by a majority of legislators.

Despite misinformation and stalling tactics by pro-abortion groups and legislators, it passed the Senate overwhelmingly with only six of the 33 senators voting against it. In the House however, it was sent to a small subcommittee designed to kill pro-life legislation. There, five pro-abortion legislators killed SJR 127. Even though there was widespread support by the citizens of Tennessee and by their legislators, the people were denied the right to control their Constitution and their laws. There are those who argue that SJR 127 would have taken away rights. This is ludicrous. Roe v. Wade took away the right to life of the unborn child. Without the right to life, all other rights are meaningless. Planned Parenthood v. Sunquist took away the rights of the people of Tennessee to regulate themselves. SJR 127 would have helped to restore these rights.

The dilemma over who has human worth is not new. It took a civil war to recognize the personhood and and rights of African Americans, and it took a world war to stop the Jewish Holocaust. Tennessee simply needs a constitutional amendment to overturn a horrible decision by a liberal, activist Supreme Court. Tennessee needs to restore basic rights to its citizens -- born and unborn.

State Rep. Bill Dunn serves the 16th District. He is a member of the Agriculture, Transportation and Fiscal Review committees. He and his wife, Stacy, are the parents of five children.