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Court upholds Tennessee constitutional amendment that denies abortion as a fundamental right

(Reuters/Kevin Lamarque)A protester holds up a sign in front of the U.S. Supreme Court.

A federal appeals court has upheld the results of a 2014 statewide vote in Tennessee to keep an amendment to the state constitution that does not recognize abortion as a fundamental right.

Amendment 1, which states that "[n]othing in this Constitution secures or protects a right to abortion or requires the funding of an abortion," was approved by voters by a 53–47 percent margin in 2014.

Within days of its approval, eight voters, including a board chair of Planned Parenthood of Middle and East Tennessee, filed a lawsuit challenging the outcome, claiming that the way the state counts ballots is unconstitutional.

The passage of Amendment 1 required a majority of the number of votes cast for the governor, which had been obtained. However, opponents claimed that voters had to cast ballots in both the governor's race and on the amendment to have their votes counted. Some have claimed that the vote was "diluted" because some voters abstained from voting for a governor while casting ballots on the amendment.

On April 21, 2016, Circuit Court Judge Michael Binkley upheld the outcome saying the language for how the votes for amendments should be counted is "unambiguous."

The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the lower court decision on Tuesday, arguing that the state's method "was the correct interpretation of vote counting methods and that election officials vote counting methods were 'reasonable and true.'"

Brian Harris, president of Tennessee Right to Life, described the ruling as "a vindication of the state's amendment process and victory for thousands of pro-life Tennesseans who sacrificed to see Amendment 1 passed."

"We are grateful to the legislators who placed the amendment on the ballot, to voters who approved it, and to the Attorney General, Secretary of State, and Coordinator of Elections who all worked tirelessly to defend it," Harris said.

According to the Baptist Press, the amendment allowed the state legislators to enact restrictions on abortions that are already being implemented in neighboring states. One of the measures introduced by lawmakers since the vote was a 48-hour waiting period for women seeking abortions, which was signed into law by the governor in 2015.

The vote on Amendment 1 follows the decision by the Tennessee Supreme Court in 2000 which declared a "fundamental right to abortion" in the Tennessee Constitution, which made the enforcement of abortion restrictions impossible in the state.

Tennessee has been ranked third in the nation in the number of out-of-state abortions and has been branded as an "abortion destination" due to the lack of restrictions prior to the vote on Amendment 1. The vote has been described by The Tennessean as the "most hotly contested and most expensive Tennessee ballot measure in recent year."

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