The Hamilton County Commission Council held a meeting last Tuesday to discuss, share their opinions and vote on Amendment 1. (Yes, a county commissions office decided they were going to vote on Amendment 1, despite overwhelming evidence that this is a state amendment and not a Hamilton County issue.) And I had a front-row seat.
The meeting was confusing and disorganized. No one explained the Amendment, and the council just kind of started stating their opinions. The council did not leave room for anyone attending the meeting to come forward and speak until the very end of the meeting, and before anyone in the audience could speak, they passed their resolution and agreement with Amendment 1 by a vote of five to two. The audience heard a lot of “my convictions with the Lord will have me vote yes on this Amendment,” and “doing the work of the Lord” from the commissioners. The only woman commissioner on the council, Sabrena Turner-Smedley, unfortunately voted yes “due to her convictions.” Oh good, we get to see our elected officials really upholding the whole “separation of Church and State” thing that our country was founded on!
When audience comments opened, the “Vote Yes” folks and Pastor Charlie Wysong, an infamous local anti-choice activist who was sued by Planned Parenthood for slander on abortion clinics, opened the floor by quoting some Bible verses. He was followed by two local Hamilton County women who told false rhetoric and extremely hurtful lies. At one point, women who receive abortions were compared to cat abortions. We heard the same lies that constantly seem to go around: “Abortion clinics are dirty and need to be regulated just like nail salons and restaurants.” One woman even held a baby and started to cry while she talked about the miracle of life and how someone in the world will love a baby with mental illnesses or physical disabilities.
Even so, Vote No On 1 TN had some allies in the audience with some incredible words to say. Pastor Greg told the council, “I trust the women in my district to make their own decisions,” and it was the first comment the audience heard that reframed the argument and made it clear that Amendment 1 isn’t just about abortion – it’s about taking away the basic human rights of women in Tennessee and their ability to choose for themselves and to govern their own bodies. He and commissioner Earl Medley were our allies in Voting No. Brian Merritt of Mercy Junction Presbyterian also swooped in to save the day. “I don’t bind myself to my faith, and I do not wish to see that in my elected officials. This is about not regulations; it is about theology,” he said. “Separation of Church and State preceded the Constitution in this county.”
The meeting was a drastic wake-up call for my peers and me. We realized if we want to win this battle, then we have to fight for ourselves.
Not many elected officials were on our side, not even our fellow female elected officials. Considering how dangerous Amendment 1 would be for Tennessee women, that’s a terrifying thing to acknowledge. Amendment 1 goes too far, and if our elected officials won’t join us in stopping it, we’ll do it on our own.