Conducting an ongoing legislative battle to restrict abortions in Tennessee is justified regardless of the political obstacles ahead, three Sullivan County GOP lawmakers insisted in a meeting with members of the Times-News Editorial Board.
“We feel strongly about this, that honestly in our heart this is the right thing to do,” Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville, said of the current abortion fight being waged in Nashville.
A resolution currently being considered by the Senate would authorize voters to amend Tennessee’s constitution to say that abortion is only protected by federal law as interpreted by the U.S. Supreme Court, which legalized abortion more than 30 years ago but could overturn the ruling.
The Tennessee Senate has twice passed the resolution before only to see it die in a Democratic-controlled House subcommittee.
“We’re going to keep passing this to see what the House does,” Ramsey said of the resolution. “I think (House lawmakers) are getting closer and closer to passing something like that. If it got to the House floor, it would pass in two seconds. This is something the majority of Tennesseans would agree on.”
Advocates of the resolution say it would bring Tennessee “back into a position of neutrality” and address a 2000 state Supreme Court decision that struck down provisions in state law allowing women to receive “informed consent” about the procedure and a 48-hour waiting period before getting an abortion.
“This is a surgical procedure that carries with it many consequences,” said House GOP Leader Jason Mumpower of Bristol. “There needs to be common-sense restrictions. ... This probably will be sent to a subcommittee and executed, but if it got to the House floor I do think it would pass there.”
State Rep. Jon Lundberg, R-Bristol, agreed.
“Along the way you are doing an education process. This will come to light, and it will pass eventually,” he said.
An amendment to the resolution would allow state lawmakers to put into law exceptions for abortion in cases of rape or incest.
Lawmakers are debating the measure while the number of abortions appears to be on the decline in Tennessee. There were 740 fewer abortions in the state from 2004 to 2005, according to Tennessee Right to Life. Part of that decline has been attributed to fewer abortion businesses being in the state.
The resolution and amendment would have to pass more legislative hurdles before the measure would appear on the 2010 ballot.
On other political matters, the lawmakers were asked who they will support in the GOP presidential race now that former Tennessee U.S. Sen. Fred Thompson has exited the campaign.
“I have honestly not made up my mind yet,” said Ramsey, who is on the Feb. 5 primary ballot as a Thompson delegate.
Ramsey said one GOP presidential front-runner, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, has asked him for an endorsement.
“That’s where I would be leaning, but I’m not ready to go there yet. ... I have to think this through,” said Ramsey, who noted GOP presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee will be visiting him on Monday also seeking an endorsement.
Mumpower said that at a Nashville press event on Monday, he and other GOP lawmakers will endorse Romney.
“I’m disappointed Fred is not in the race anymore, but he isn’t. Mitt Romney is the candidate I would have been for all along had Fred not been in the race,” Mumpower said.