Bishop David R. Choby CNS p hoto/Rick Musacchio, Tennessee Register

Backers of Tennessee abortion measure credit prayer, Church support for passage

By  Andy Telli, Catholic News Service
  • November 7, 2014

NASHVILLE, Tenn. - Supporters of Amendment 1 said the measure to restore Tennessee lawmakers' authority to regulate abortion passed Nov. 4 because of the backing by Catholic and other religious leaders and their churches.

The fight now turns to the state General Assembly, which is expected to consider several bills to regulate abortion when it convenes in January.

"Our work has just begun," said Lorene Steffes, a volunteer and board member for the Yes on 1 Campaign that worked for passage of Amendment 1, so named because it was the first amendment listed on the ballot.

Steffes, a parishioner at Holy Family Church in Brentwood, said she expects the General Assembly to take up several measures that were lost in the wake of a 2000 court decision striking down the legislature's authority to regulate abortion, such as a waiting period and informed consent for women seeking an abortion in Tennessee, as well as required inspections for clinics performing surgical abortions in the state.

"I know for a fact if women are given the full information, some will choose life," said Steffes.

All abortion clinics should be licensed as ambulatory surgical centres, Steffes said. "If facilities are doing surgeries, they should be equipped properly to do surgeries."

"I was very pleased and relieved that the amendment passed," said Nashville Bishop David R. Choby. "I think that it's very important that a group of individuals charged with the responsibility of directing activity that affects a woman's health that they have the necessary authority to enact legislation for this purpose.

"As it is, the decision of the Tennessee Supreme Court in 2000 that struck down legislation that governed the abortion industry makes it impossible for such activity to be overseen or governed."

Although Catholics hope to see an eventual end to abortion, Choby said, "At least this is the beginning of an opportunity to address the consequences and effects that come with the practice of abortion."

Choby said he and Tennessee's two other Catholic bishops, Knoxville Bishop Richard F. Stika and Memphis Bishop J. Terry Steib, will be watching the coming debate over proposed regulations of the abortion industry. 

"It's safe to say the bishops of the state will follow with interest any proposed legislation that addresses this particular area," he said.

The three bishops publicly urged Catholics in their dioceses to support passage of Amendment 1.

Chris Melton, the Davidson County co-ordinator for the Yes on 1 Campaign and president of the Nashville Chapter of Tennessee Right to Life, said Choby's public support for the amendment "gave us permission here at school and church to say this is not just my political view, this is what everybody should do." Melton is a teacher at Holy Rosary Academy in Nashville.

It wasn't just Catholic churches who supported the amendment. "The Baptists in our county and the Church of God are two very prominent ones who helped us," said Joe Hollmann, whose wife, Clara, was the Yes on 1 co-ordinator for Lawrence County on the Tennessee-Alabama border.

"Their pastors got on board," Hollmann said. "For the last two or three months, they've been talking it up."

"The churches were wonderful," Steffes said. "So many churches across the state endorsed the amendment, spoke out about the amendment and put signs up."

Religious leaders realized "this was a moral issue and we had to stand up as faithful people for women in our state," Steffes said.

Several Catholic churches in the Nashville Diocese held prayer services before the election to pray for the amendment's passage.

"Prayer really took it over the top," said Regina Azzara, a parishioner at Immaculate Conception Church in Clarksville and the Yes on 1 co-ordinator for Montgomery County.

"I think we've got a lot more to be thankful for," she added. "We've restored some sanity and common sense to this beautiful state of ours."

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