Molly Redden

Molly Redden

Reporter

Molly Redden is a reporter in Mother Jones' Washington bureau. Previously, she worked for The New Republic, covering energy and the environment and politics, and The Chronicle of Higher Education. Her work has also appeared in Salon, Washington City Paper, and Slate. In her free time, she enjoys cooking and watching too much television. She tweets at @mtredden. Email her at mredden at motherjones dot com.

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Molly Redden is a reporter in Mother Jones' Washington bureau. Previously, she worked for The New Republic, covering energy and the environment and politics, and The Chronicle of Higher Education. Her work has also appeared in Salon, Washington City Paper, and Slate. In her free time, she enjoys cooking and watching too much television. She tweets at @mtredden.

Tennessee Voters Just Made It Easier to Restrict Abortion—And the GOP Isn't Wasting Any Time.

| Tue Nov. 11, 2014 11:15 AM EST

For years, as lawmakers in other conservative states passed onerous restrictions designed to limit abortion access, deep-red Tennessee stood out as an exception—because the state's constitution forbade many of the harshest anti-abortion measures.

But that changed on Election Day. Last week, 53 percent of Tennessee voters approved Amendment 1—a change to the state's constitution that will allow lawmakers to pass a slew of new abortion restrictions. And Republicans, led by Beth Harwell, the speaker of the state house of representatives, are already working on three abortion restrictions to debate in 2015: One measure would set up a mandatory waiting period between a woman's first visit to an abortion clinic and the time of the procedure. A second would force women to undergo mandatory counseling, known as informed consent, before an abortion. And a third would add new, unspecified inspection requirements for abortion facilities.

As I reported in September, Amendment 1 was aimed at overturning a 2000 court decision that struck down a 48-hour waiting period, an "informed consent" law, and a requirement that all second-trimester abortions be performed in a hospital. Amendment 1 reads: "Nothing in this Constitution secures or protects a right to abortion or requires the funding of an abortion," including for pregnancies "resulting from rape or incest or when necessary to save the life of the mother."

Supporters of Amendment 1 argued that the new language was necessary because Tennessee was barred from inspecting abortion clinics. (In fact, the Tennessee Department of Health inspected several of the state's clinics within the past year before renewing their licenses.)

Amendment 1 detractors, on the other hand, warned that the measure was actually aimed at using strict new regulations to close some of Tennessee's seven abortion clinics. This tactic is popular with Tennessee's neighbors. It's part of why nearly 1 in 4 women who receive an abortion in Tennessee live in another state, such as Alabama and Mississippi, where highly restrictive abortion laws have closed all but a handful of abortion providers.

Abortion rights advocates also worried that the amendment would allow abortion opponents to spread misinformation about abortion through an informed consent law; South Dakota, for example, compels doctors to tell women that abortion can lead to an increased risk of suicide—an assertion that mainstream medical organizations say is false. All told, both camps poured $5.5 million into the fight over Amendment 1.

It's not as though Tennessee was abortion-friendly to begin with. Before Amendment 1 came along, Tennessee passed anti-abortion laws that limited insurance coverage for abortion, outlawed the abortion pill, and caused two abortion clinics to close because they could not gain admitting privileges with local hospitals.

The real danger of Amendment 1 is that the measure "will basically just open the floodgates for the General Assembly to pass any kind of restriction if the amendment passes," Jeff Teague, the president of Planned Parenthood of Middle and East Tennessee, said in the run-up to the election. "We think they probably have a long list of things they're going to pass."

Turns out he was spot-on.

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Today's Biggest Showdown Over Guns Is in Washington State

| Tue Nov. 4, 2014 2:04 PM EST

The most closely watched battle over gun regulations this Election Day is in Washington state, where voters will weigh in on two opposing ballot measures: Initiative 594, which would expand background checks for gun buyers, including those purchasing firearms at a gun show or online; and Initiative 591, which would forbid any background checks beyond the limited regime required by federal law. An unprecedented amount of money has poured into the fight—from opponents of the National Rifle Association.

Proponents of stricter gun laws are billing the fight as "the only up-or-down vote on gun measures in the country this year." The Washington Alliance for Gun Responsibility, the committee behind the push for expanded background checks, has raked in some $10.4 million. Everytown for Gun Safety, an advocacy group launched in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary massacre, donated $2.3 million of that total. Everytown has also run its own ballot committee in the state, raising more than $900,000; the group says that it has spent roughly $3.6 million overall on the I-594 effort, including a robust staff on the ground that's been involved in strategy, media, and voter turnout operations.

Major philanthropists are in on the action as well: Fomer New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who funds Everytown, has also personally given the Washington Alliance almost $300,000. And Bill and Melinda Gates, the Microsoft co-founder and his wife, and Steve and Connie Ballmer, a former Microsoft executive and his wife, have backed I-594, with each couple donating at least $1 million. Seattle-based venture capitalist Nick Hanauer gave $500,000.

For its part, the NRA has spent about half a million dollars to defeat the expansion of background checks (not an insignificant sum, though the organization has spent much bigger in North Carolina, Colorado, and elsewhere). Meanwhile, Protect Our Gun Rights, a local group supporting the ballot measure to restrict new background checks, has raised about $1.3 million.

How this fight will play out remains anybody's guess, but it's shaping up to be the first major test of the new gun-reform movement's clout. An early October poll of the election by Elway Research, which is not involved with either campaign, found that 60 percent of voters planned to vote for the measure expanding background checks, and only 39 percent planned to support the rival measure limiting background checks. In mid-October, a poll commissioned by a local news channel found that 64 percent favored stricter background checks, with 45 percent favoring looser rules. (That poll didn't measure support for the individual measures.)

But the competing measure has also sown confusion: According to the Elway poll, 15 percent of voters intended to vote no on both ballot measures, and more than 20 percent of voters intended to vote yes on both ballot measures. If both measures were to pass, it could lead to legal chaos.

The fight has drawn attention for another reason: Washington state is still reeling from the latest deadly school shooting. On October 24, Jayden Fryberg, a freshman football player at Marysville-Pilchuck High School, walked into the school cafeteria during lunch and fired a gun, killing one student and wounding four others, before shooting himself to death. One of the four injured students, a 14-year-old girl, later died.

The .40 caliber handgun, according to police, was legally registered to a member of his family; Fryberg, a minor, would not have been able to purchase the gun on his own. The gun lobby and its supporters seized on this fact to declare gun control measures ineffective.

But other people who are paying close attention to this battle on Election Day disagreed: Nicole Hockley and Mark Barden, whose children died at Sandy Hook, traveled to Washington state to back Initiative 594. "We know that background checks can save lives," Hockley said. "Just because it won't stop one tragedy doesn't mean it won't stop other tragedies from happening."

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