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Federal appeals court upholds Tennessee vote to remove right to abortion from state constitution

[JURIST] The US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit [official website] on Wednesday upheld [text, PDF] a 2014 citizen vote to amend the state constitution to remove the right to abortion.

The question before the court was not whether such a provision was constitutional, but whether the voting method used to ratify the amendment was consistent with Tennessee's constitution. The challenged amendment states:

Nothing in this Constitution secures or protects a right to abortion or requires the funding of an abortion. The people retain the right through their elected state representatives and state senators to enact, amend, or repeal statutes regarding abortion, including, but not limited to, circumstances of pregnancy resulting from rape or incest or when necessary to save the life of the mother.
Under the Tennessee constitution, an amendment will be added to the constitution if the number of "yes" votes exceeds 50 percent of all votes cast in the election. These votes include those for the amendment and those for the governor, keeping in mind that any voter may abstain from voting on the amendment. In the election, the number of votes cast totaled 1,430,117 and the number in favor of ratification was 729,163.

The appeals court analyzed Tennessee's constitutional provision setting forth the process for ratification, along with previous interpretations of the provision. It also acknowledged that the topic, abortion, was highly controversial, which is why the case was of great importance to many Tennessee citizens. However, the court concluded that the voting process used to ratify the amendment was directly in line with the constitution and previous interpretations. The amendment, therefore, was properly ratified and may take full affect.

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