By Bob Allen
Southern Baptists and Roman Catholics in Tennessee — along with Free Will Baptists, the Assemblies of God and others — are joining forces to marshal support for a state constitutional amendment allowing lawmakers to restrict abortion in the Bible Belt.
Churches across the state observed Sept. 28 as “Yes on 1 Sunday,” urging voter registration and support for a Nov. 7 referendum on Amendment 1, a measure that would allow state legislators “to enact, amend or repeal statutes regarding abortion.”
Supporters say the amendment is needed to remedy a 2000 decision by the Tennessee Supreme Court that the state constitution provides broader protections for reproductive freedom than the United States Constitution. Turning back the clock on the ruling, they say, will allow Tennessee lawmakers to enact “common-sense” policies like informed consent, a 24-hour waiting period and inspection and regulation of abortion facilities.
YES on 1, an outreach organization formed to build support for the amendment, says Tennessee’s unusually strong protection for abortion rights has an impact beyond the state’s borders. The group says nearly 25 percent of all abortions in Tennessee are now performed on women from out of state.
“Tennessee is sort of becoming the abortion capital of the Bible Belt,” Russell Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, said at a recent gathering of Southern Baptist ministers quoted by The Tennessean newspaper in Nashville, Tenn.
“Tennessee is in danger of becoming the Mecca for abortion in the Deep South,” Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, said in a podcast Oct. 1, a reputation that voters for the first time have an opportunity to change.
“We can only hope and pray that the voters of Tennessee take a stand for the sanctity of human life and for the sanity of constitutional government,” Mohler said.
The ERLC and Tennessee Baptist Convention co-sponsored an information meeting about the amendment for area ministers Sept. 18. “Lives are at stake, and the opposition to this amendment is fierce,” observed a posting that day on the Tennessee Baptist Convention Facebook page.
Randy Davis, the state convention’s executive director, and a former convention staff member now representing YES on 1, mailed a letter last month asking Southern Baptist pastors in the state to urge members of their congregations to vote for the amendment.
Last fall the state convention passed a resolution urging “all Tennessee Baptists to work vigorously toward the passage of pro-life Amendment 1 in November 2014 as one step toward the protection of life.”
Opponents say Amendment 1 is worded to deliberately confuse voters, and the real agenda is to make all abortion illegal. A group called VoteNOon1 says medical decisions should remain private between a woman and her doctor without interference from politicians.
New Vision Baptist Church in Murfreesboro, Tenn., got pushback after Pastor Brady Cooper endorsed the amendment in a sermon Sept. 7. Rebekah Majors-Manley, an Amendment 1 opponent, told the Daily News Journal newspaper that a couple of her friends were offended by the message.
“They were very upset that he spoke,” she said. “They had a horrible experience at church that day. They went to church to hear about God and not political positions.”