The Fight for SJR 127 Heats Up

“There’s going to be some serious movement over the weekend
asking you to violate the committee system…I’m going to ask you not to.”
House Speaker Jimmy Naifeh (D-Covington)
For a measure that has been repeatedly pronounced “dead,” SJR 127 continues to rankle pro-abortion elected officials at the highest levels of Tennessee government. On Thursday, opposition to the pro-life resolution reached fever pitch during a press conference with House Speaker Naifeh (D-Covington), Speaker Pro Tem Lois DeBerry (D-Memphis), and House Majority Leader Kim McMillan (D-Clarksville)—expressing ‘concern’ at continuing efforts to move the resolution to the House floor.
Responding to a question, pro-abortion Rep. McMillan hinted that it may be necessary to urge the Registry of Election Finance to investigate Tennessee Right to Life’s work on SJR 127. TRL President Brian Harris expressed surprise at the attack but responded by saying “We have as much right as any other citizens group to organize and work for the passage of good, protective laws. We will continue to represent our member’s pro-life views on Capitol Hill.”
Just a day before, Speaker Naifeh urged Democrats to oppose attempts to bring the resolution to the House floor. “There’s going to be some serious movement over the weekend asking you to violate the committee system…I’m going to ask you not to,” Naifeh told the House Democratic Caucus on Wednesday. Naifeh also complained falsely that TRL has “threatened to send busloads of people” to his West Tennessee district to help in the campaign of his pro-life opponent, Dr. Jesse Cannon.
“I’ve been threatened…that’s okay; I’ve been threatened with campaign stuff,” Naifeh was reported as saying. Ironically, the prime House sponsor of the pro-life resolution is a democrat, Rep. Mike Turner of Nashville. Rep. Turner has expressed continued support for the effort to bring the resolution to the floor if the votes can be assured. At last count, Rep. Turner claimed 62 of the 66 needed votes to ‘suspend the rules’ to consider SJR 127.
At the same time, pro-abortion legislators are maneuvering to confuse the public and neutralize the impact of pro-life voters in the upcoming elections by running a meaningless ‘pro-life’ bill on informed consent. House Bill 3592 has been introduced by Senator Roy Herron (D-Dresden) who led the failed senate effort to defeat SJR 127 and who was one of only six votes against the measure. Pro-life Rep. Phillip Pinion (D-Union City) is carrying the ‘fake’ bill despite being urged by pro-life leaders not to participate in passing a bill which cannot be enforced and is designed simply to provide cover for pro-abortion legislators who have opposed the passage of SJR 127.
“Pro-abortion legislators are working overtime to block the one real means we have of restoring common sense balance to Tennessee’s abortion policy,” said Brian Harris. “They do not want the people of Tennessee to have a say which could remove the so-called ‘right to abortion’ in the state Constitution. But in order to protect their political careers, they want to appear to be ‘pro-life’ even if the bill is unenforceable because of the Supreme Court’s 2000 ruling.”
Tennessee Right to Life urges pro-life Tennesseans to call the “Pro-Abortion Bluff.”
Additional Background on Phony ‘Pro-Life’ Substitute: House Bill 3592
Brought by Senator Roy Herron who aggressively opposed SJR 127 and Rep. Phillip Pinion, HB 3592 purports to restore Tennessee’s waiting period and informed consent for women considering abortion. Unfortunately, as interpreted by the 2000 decision by the Tennessee Supreme Court in Planned Parenthood v. Sundquist, the right to abortion in Tennessee is a fundamental right which, they ruled, requires heightened “strict scrutiny” protection. Any law or efforts to restrict or infringe such a “fundamental” right must be very narrowly drafted and must demonstrate a compelling state interest requiring the proposed limitation of the basic, fundamental (abortion) right. In short, it is a rigorous and heightened standard of judging the constitutionality of laws.
When the United States Supreme Court still judged pro-life laws under the “strict scrutiny” standard (rather than the later and more lenient “undue burden” standard), informed consent and waiting periods were struck down as violating the “fundamental” abortion right. There is little doubt—despite claims to the contrary by sponsors—that based on the 2000 Planned Parenthood v. Sundquist decision, HB 3592 cannot be upheld as constitutional.
Consider the dissent of Tennessee Supreme Court Justice William Barker:
“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. Rather than leaving policy decisions regarding reasonable abortion regulation to the General Assembly, this Court has converted itself into a roving constitutional convention…”
“…The court has held that the abortion regulations of this state are violative of the right of privacy which “pervades” the constitution…with the introduction of strict scrutiny, this Court has forced the State of Tennessee into an “all-or-nothing” scenario, where only the most important impeccably drafted legislation withstands the slightest possibility of darkening the constitutional doorway. I simply cannot fathom that the people of Tennessee, who outlawed the practice of abortion until Roe v. Wade, intended to remove all power from themselves to enact reasonable regulations on abortion. Nevertheless, this is the very conclusion reached by the majority today.” — Dissenting Justice William Barker, September 15, 2000
Finally, as columnist Tim Chavez put it so well in his Tennessean article of April 18, 2004, “when statutes and the constitution collide, the constitution wins…and the Naifeh machine knows it…”
As much as pro-life Tennesseans want the restoration of meaningful protections such as informed consent, House Bill 3592 is the wrong bill at the wrong time. It cannot be upheld while Planned Parenthood v. Sundquist remains the law of the land and offers nothing more than an opportunity for pro-abortion legislators to pretend they have done something for life right before the fall elections.


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