NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - Opponents of abortion had a huge victory in November. By changing the state constitution, they overturned a court ruling that fourteen years ago had nullified mandatory counselling and waiting periods and strict clinic regulations.
After a hard-fought campaign that included more than $5.5 million spent on dueling television advertisements and other efforts, Tennessee voters passed Amendment 1 with 53 percent voting in favor.
That success, 14 years in the making, was the state’s top news story of 2014 as voted on by reporters and editors of The Associated Press, AP member newspapers and broadcast subscribers.
Knoxville News Sentinel Editor Jack McElroy wrote that the abortion amendment got his vote for top story because it “sets the stage for more big stories for years to come as the state debates how to regulate abortion.”
In fact, more stories came almost immediately as a group of abortion-rights supporters challenged the election results in court. The case currently is pending in U.S. District Court in Nashville. But that hasn’t deterred lawmakers from introducing new abortion restrictions.
Less than two weeks after the election, and more than two months before the legislative session, Rep. Rick Womick filed a bill that would require women seeking abortions to undergo an ultrasound between one and three days before the procedure.
The Rockvale Republican said his concern was to “fully inform the mother of what she is doing.”
More moderate Republicans have said their priorities are to re-establish the restrictions that were struck down by a Tennessee Supreme Court ruling in 2000. Those restrictions required mandatory counselling, a waiting period and stricter clinic regulations.
James Clark, editor of the McMinnville paper the Southern Standard, had a different reason for picking the abortion story that included a scandal surrounding the city’s congressman.
“Politically speaking, few things are as scary as the religious right wanting to inflict its moral superiority on everyone else. Then when it hits close to home, such as Rep. Scott DesJarlais, they urge their pregnant mistress to have an abortion,” he wrote.
The conservative, anti-abortion Republican won re-election in November despite admitting to the conduct Clark describes.
Gov. Bill Haslam’s Tennessee Promise was a close second for the top story of 2014. The program gives the state’s graduating high school seniors free tuition to Tennessee’s two-year community colleges and colleges of applied technology.
About 58,000 of Tennessee’s roughly 62,000 high school seniors applied for the free tuition, but Mike Krause, who oversees the program, said he expects actual enrollment to be between 12,000 and 13,000 students.
Haslam announced the initiative as a way to help boost the number of Tennesseans with two- and four-year degrees from 33 percent to 55 percent. Under the program, students who choose to attend a four-year school after graduation will be able to do so as juniors.
Richard V. Stevens, editor and general manager at The Leaf-Chronicle in Clarksville, chose the Tennessee Promise as the top news story, writing, “Making an unprecedented commitment to community college and technical education will improve Tennessee’s workforce and ultimately our economy.”
Also among the top stories of the year was the arrest of two men accused of murdering Holly Bobo, the 20-year-old nursing student who disappeared from her rural West Tennessee home in April 2011. Despite a massive search effort, her remains were not recovered until this past September when a pair of ginseng hunters accidentally stumbled across them.
Producer/anchor Tom Britt at WBBJ-TV in Jackson said, “Holly Bobo’s kidnapping was a story that touched the hearts of every parent in the state.”
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