Playing Abortion Politics

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In a fine bit of political theater, Democrats showed up Republicans on the abortion issue this week in the state Senate. Republicans, denying any political posturing for this year’s elections, are pushing a state constitutional amendment on abortion. They say it’s needed to nullify a Tennessee Supreme Court ruling that they say prohibits “commonsense” restrictions on abortion rights. But Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee yesterday delayed voting on a bill by Democratic Sen. Roy Herron that would require just the kind of precautions Republicans have been saying are reasonable—informed consent and mandated periods of reflection before abortions. The legislation also provides an exception in cases in which an abortion is necessary to protect the health and life of the mother. And Herron produced a state attorney general’s opinion saying his bill is constitutional in spite of that Supreme Court ruling that Republicans hate so much. "This is a pro-life bill, and any legislator claiming to be pro-life should support it," Herron told the committee, which is controlled 5-4 by Republicans. "There has been a lot of talk in the Senate lately about amending the constitution concerning abortion, but none of that would take effect for at least three years. If our goal is to protect unborn babies, we can pass this bill and begin protecting those babies immediately." Democrats sent a press release this morning on the meeting in which pro-life Sen. Doug Jackson, a Democrat from Dickson, expresses dismay at opposition to the bill. "I feel sure this is a bill that Tennessee Right to Life can support," he says. "If they want to protect unborn babies, why wouldn't they support it?" Update: Republicans respond with their own press release. They seem to have dropped their insistence that the issue is about providing "commonsense protections for women," as Sen. Diane Black put it. Suddenly, it's all about letting the people speak. "Democrats seek to confuse a very simple issue: An activist court overturned laws that protected women and the unborn while SJR 127 seeks to return to the people the vote to address the issue of abortion ," state GOP chair Robin Smith says. "Rather than permitting voters to speak on the issue, Democrats are seeking to put this issue back in the hands of the courts, not at the ballot box."

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