Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Culture Warriors Storming the Capitol

Posted By on Tue, Mar 10, 2009 at 2:11 PM

click to enlarge oie_fetus.jpg
Culture War weirdness is returning to the Capitol in a big way. On Wednesday's agenda? A slew of anti-abortion measures, plus Stacey Campfield's "Don't Say Gay" bill prohibiting any mention of homosexuality in public schools. Yes, it's that special time we've all been waiting for when the legislature's new Republican majority begins to pay back its bug-eyed base. Outlawing abortions, of course, is at the top of the to-do list. Likely to pass tomorrow in the Senate Judiciary Committee is the infamous SJR127, a resolution asking voters to amend the Tennessee constitution to strip away abortion rights. This almost passed the entire legislature last session when the evangelical Family Action Council generated an astounding 100,000 emails to lawmakers in 10 days. Also tomorrow in a House subcommittee, lawmakers will debate that resolution and a bunch of other anti-abortion stuff. Amending the constitution would nullify a 2000 Tennessee Supreme Court decision, Planned Parenthood v. Sundquist. The court ruled that the state constitution affords greater protection of abortion rights than does the U.S. Constitution as interpreted by the U.S. Supreme Court. This means that certain restrictions on abortion upheld by the nation's highest court can't be imposed in Tennessee. Pro-lifers want to fix that little problem so they can pass an array of measures to try to intimidate pregnant women who are thinking about having an abortion. One idea would require doctors to read a scary script on the evils of abortion to patients. That's what passes for "informed consent" among evangelicals. Women who are undaunted then might be asked under another proposed law to look at an ultrasound of their fetus before an abortion. They might have to obtain a death certificate afterward. Campfield's death certificate bill is one of the measures up for debate tomorrow. Under the Democrats' leadership, such bills have been killed in House subcommittees. Not anymore. Of the six lawmakers on the Public Health & Family Assistance subcommittee, which is considering the proposals, only one--Nashville's Sherry Jones--is pro-choice. The only debate will be whether to adopt the Republican resolution or a Democratic one that makes exceptions for cases of rape, incest and the life of the mother. This afternoon, we talked with the Family Action Council's David Fowler about the abortion measures. Q: Roe v. Wade isn't going anywhere, so what's the point of all this? Is it just political grandstanding? Fowler: The judicially created right to abortion in Tennessee's constitution is more strict and more protected than what the U.S. constitution would require. There are laws that we could pass under the U.S. Constitution that we can't pass under the state constitution. So there is value to it. The U.S. Constitution says you have to give a minimum of rights and a minimum of protection, but you can always give more. But what our Supreme Court did was give abortion greater rights under our constitution. So by passing SJR 127, we're not trying to overrule the U.S. Constitution. We're trying to go back to doing what the U.S. Constitution allows. Q: What new restrictions on abortion would you try to pass? Fowler: We would go back and reenact the informed consent law we had, which made sure that women not only knew about the procedure but about the other life involved in that procedure. Q: The informed consent that's given now isn't good enough? Fowler: The informed consent that's in place now is a generic informed consent that would apply to any kind of generic procedure. We would also be able to enact a waiting period law that we don't have now. Q: What kind of informed consent law would you like? Fowler: An informed consent that ensures that information relative to this procedure is communicated to the woman involved. Q: What else? Fowler: There are other things we could do as well if this resolution passes that we probably could not do under Planned Parenthood v. Sundquist. For example, many states now are requiring doctors to inform women that they've performed an ultrasound and that they have the right to see that ultrasound. Many women think it's just a blog of cells or tissues. But literally within eight days, I think you can notice the heartbeat on the sonogram and when they begin to understand the truth about what is inside their body, they recognize it as a human being and a child. That kind of law probably would not be constitutional under Planned Parenthood v. Sundquist. Q: Do you think that would be OK with the U.S. Supreme Court? Fowler: I think so. To my knowledge it's not yet been challenged, but a number of states have passed those. I think it would be constitutional because you don't require the doctor to show the sonogram. You simply require the doctor to inform them that a sonogram has been taken and they have the right to see it. Q: What about Campfield's bill and others like it to restrict rights? There's one to require women who have abortions to obtain a death certificate? Do you have a position on that? Fowler: No, really, we're focused at this point on SJR127. There will be a time when we'll look at those bills and what positions we'll take at that time I don't know. I haven't sat down to think through what are the implications of those bills. Update: Aunt B responds--"Women of Tennessee, We are Screwed."

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