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A Pro-Life Decision 17 Years in the Making

On Tuesday, the U.S Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit upheld the vote of the people in 2014 in favor of Amendment 1 to the Tennessee Constitution. The amendment essentially reversed a decision by the Tennessee Supreme Court in 2000, holding that abortion was a “right” under our Tennessee Constitution. The 6th Circuit’s opinion was not just a legal version of a WWE SmackDown to the pro-abortion plaintiffs and the federal district judge who agreed with them, but it was a reminder to me about how to think of another issue on which I’m working.

Court Exposes Baseless Legal Arguments

There was much in the court’s opinion to like if you are pro-life or if you simply believe in the U.S. Constitution and abhor the philosophy of those judges who like to figure out the result they want and then reason backward to get there. However, my two favorite lines were these summations of the plaintiffs’ case:

Plaintiffs’ arguments amount to little more than a complaint that the campaigns in support of Amendment 1, operating within the framework established by state law, turned out to be more successful than the campaigns against Amendment 1.

Their grievance in this case thus appears to be driven by regrets, not so much that the State officials’ actions infringed their rights, but that their ‘adversaries,’ supporters of Amendment 1, may have campaigned more effectively than did opponents of Amendment 1.

I think it would be fair to interpret these statements something like this: “You are just sore losers. The other side did a better job getting its message out, so, when the election was over, you ran to the courthouse looking for a friendly judge who would bail you out despite your lousy legal arguments.”

If that sounds a bit blunt, I hope you’ll cut me some slack since I spent a good portion of my life working on this, filing the original constitutional amendment 17 years ago this month. But that fact, along with the court’s contrast between the two political campaigns, reminds me to never give up on things of fundamental importance and work hard, because, in time, God just might vindicate that which is fundamental, in this case, the sanctity of life, of which He is its Author.

The Long Road to This Week’s Victory

This week’s legal victory, however, must not be seen in isolation but in the larger context. I wish space allowed me to convey to you the twists, turns, pitfalls, and potholes that were encountered just by me during the ten years in which I worked to help get the amendment through the Legislature. I’m sure my friends at Tennessee Right to Life have their own compelling stories. Suffice it to say, at times the effort was frustrating, discouraging, and downright tiring.

I’ll never forget, though, Lt. Gov. Wilder asking then Sen. Ron Ramsey and me to stop pushing the amendment, because it was never going to pass the Legislature and our efforts would only create friction and division among a then rather congenial group of senators. We politely declined.

To be honest, a lot of people naturally saw the effort as rather hopeless when this process started. Democratic majorities controlled both the House and Senate, and the amendment had to be approved by a vote of two-thirds of both chambers. In other words, we would need 66 votes in the House, and Democrats then held 59 of the seats!

I think my friend Ron Ramsey would agree with me on this, but it wasn’t assurance of eventual victory that propelled us to press on despite Lt. Gov. Wilder’s request, but rather a conviction that fighting to protect innocent, unborn lives from death was worth the effort and any collegial discomfort we might experience.

The Encouraging Reminder I Needed

And that brings me to today and another issue on which I’ve been working now for two years.

Many think of the efforts begun by the Family Action Council of Tennessee in January 2016 to challenge the legal effect of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision regarding government-licensed marriages of same-sex couples in the same way they thought of the abortion amendment—we’re tilting at windmills, we can’t win, the marriage ship has sailed, and so on. That may turn out to be the case, but if a Christian, pro-marriage organization will not defend to the end that form of union between man and woman that alone mirrors the very image of the Triune God and that embodies what is real and true about the nature of marriage, then what is our reason for existence?

Who knows? Maybe if we, along with a handful of others, don’t give up and we continue to work hard, God just might, in time, vindicate that which He ordained and holds dear—marriage. After all, that’s what happened with Amendment 1 on Wednesday.


David Fowler served in the Tennessee state Senate for 12 years before joining FACT as President in 2006. Read David’s complete bio.

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