MADISON — Adoring fans of the Duggar family, whose reality television show depicts life in a home with 19 children, filled a local church Monday to hear why they support a constitutional amendment that would strengthen Tennessee lawmakers' abilities to regulate abortion.
Parents Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar were face-to-face with hundreds of Tennessee families — and some from as far as Louisville, Ky., and Atlanta — who were primed to hear the message.
Yet the Duggars said that for Amendment 1 to pass, they'll have to reach the Tennesseans who don't realize the current limits of Tennessee's abortion laws. And because they anticipate strong opposition from pro-choice groups, the Duggars said, it was crucial that the campaign to pass the amendment, known as "Yes on 1," get started a full year ahead of the vote.
"As we talk to people here in Tennessee, most people are totally unaware of what happened in 2000, when the (Tennessee Supreme Court) went and threw out almost all of the regulations," said Jim Bob Duggar, a former Arkansas state representative.
The referendum to go before voters would add language stating that, "Nothing in this Constitution secures or protects a right to abortion or requires the funding of an abortion."
More than a decade in the making, the proposal seeks to give lawmakers the ability to restrict abortions in ways the court ruled against under the constitution's privacy protections.
Anti-abortion groups want lawmakers to resurrect the laws struck down by the court in 2000. Those included requiring women seeking abortions to get counseling first and wait two days after counseling before undergoing the procedure and mandating that second-trimester abortions be performed in hospitals rather than outpatient clinics.
Neighboring states have effect
The Duggars, in an interview in which they often finished each other's sentences, said they believe women considering abortions in Tennessee need more information about the procedure. They said Tennessee is an outlier among Southeast states because it has more permissive abortion laws.
Restrictions in neighboring states have, in fact, led to more women coming to Tennessee to have abortions. More than 1 in 4 abortions in Tennessee were sought by women from out of state, according to a Tennessean analysis of abortion data.
"Tennessee is the only state in the Southeast that does not have a waiting period for a woman before she has an abortion, and it does not have informed consent, ..." Jim Bob Duggar said. "Many women are having a lifetime of regret."
Fans drove hours to see the Duggars at Cornerstone Church in Madison, where funds were being raised for the Heartbeat Haven Pregnancy Resource Center in Lafayette, Tenn., which counsels pregnant women and women who have had abortions.
Lisa Reasons of Brownsville, Tenn., near Memphis, said she was there for inspiration and to hear the family's thoughts about the constitutional amendment, which she supports.
"To be able to have informed consent for abortion, we don't have that in Tennessee," Reasons said. "And the unborn don't have a voice to speak up."
Another prominent anti-abortion activist, Alveda King, niece of Martin Luther King Jr., also spoke of what she sees as a "turning point."
"It can only help a woman to have some time to decide what she must do," she said.
'Yes on 1'
The "Yes on 1" campaign got another boost during a separate Nashville fundraiser headlined by Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey. The Blountville Republican spoke at the Marriott at Vanderbilt during an event closed to the media.
The event was on target to raise $250,000, but Ramsey said twice that amount may be needed. Speaking to reporters earlier, he said a combined $1 million could be spent by groups for and against the amendment.
"This (amendment) cannot do away with abortion in the state of Tennessee," Ramsey said. "But I think that most citizens in the state of Tennessee would agree with things like waiting periods."