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Tennessee's Next Governor: Where The Candidates Stand On Abortion

Republican businessman Randy Boyd has been touting his position on abortion in mailers and ads.
Chas Sisk
Republican businessman Randy Boyd has been touting his position on abortion in mailers and ads.

The topic of abortion has begun to rise in prominence in the race for Tennessee governor.

Two candidates in particular — the Republicans Diane Black and Randy Boyd — are showcasing their positions on the issue in ads and mailers.

But it's something everyone who runs for state office has to confront. So we asked the leading candidates for governor:

What additional restrictions, if any, do you favor placing on abortion?

The answers were hardly shocking. Most politicians stick to the party line on abortion, and among the six major candidates, the pattern pretty much holds:

Republicans say they favor more restrictions on abortion. Democrats say the decision whether to terminate a pregnancy should be between a woman and her health care provider.

What differentiates the candidates is what else they have to say. For instance, Randy Boyd, a Knoxville businessman who served as the state's economic and community development commissioner, likes to steer the conversation away from abortion to adoption.

Usually he does so by sharing the story of how his wife came to be adopted.


"I'm pro-life and I'm pro-adoption," Boyd says in a recent TV ad. "And if I’m elected governor, I want to make sure that Tennessee is the most adoption-friendly state in America.

"For me, it's not about the politics of life — it's about the love of my life.

That pivot also appears in Boyd's speeches and in a recent mailer to likely Republican voters. His goal seems to be to convince ardently pro-life voters that he's with them, while also leaving the door open to voters who might be less dogmatic on the issue.

Another approach is to take a hard line, which is what Congressman Diane Black is doing. She's been talking up her legislative record, which includes an attack on a group that's often targeted by anti-abortion activists: Planned Parenthood.


"Why should we be giving taxpayer dollars to an organization that is breaking the law?" she says in a TV ad, refering to her efforts to strip abortion providers like Planned Parenthood of all federal funding — even for health services that aren't related to abortion like cancer screenings. Black says the money is an indirect subsidy for abortion, a claim providers strongly deny.

Other candidates say less

The other two Republicans in the race haven't been talking about abortion in their ads.

When asked, Franklin businessman Bill Lee will sometimes point to his work with a pregnancy resource center that discourages abortions. Meanwhile, House Speaker Beth Harwell talks about the laws Tennessee has passed in recent years, which she says strike a good balance.

"I think our abortion laws are some of the best in the nation," she says, "and I think that the laws that we have in place are there to protect the women that are involved."

On the Democratic side, former Nashville Mayor Karl Dean and House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh don't bring abortion up much during their campaigns. But both say the practice is regulated enough in Tennessee — maybe even too much. 


QUESTION: What additional restrictions, if any, do you favor placing on abortion?


Craig Fitzhugh: You know, I think the law is the law. I think the Supreme Court decision is still in effect, and I don't see that there's much to do. I frankly think a lot of those restrictions and things that are coming up now are strictly for political purposes, and I'm certainly not for that. And now we're going even beyond the particular issue of abortion and into general women's health care — and that is very disturbing to me — under the guise of abortion, not giving women the health care that they need and sometimes can't afford.Karl Dean: I think abortion is an intensely emotional issue, and I think there are a wide variety of opinions on that issue, but I believe a woman's medical decisions should be made between her and her doctor and her family and her faith and that politicians should not insert themselves into that conversation. I'd have to look at whatever is proposed but I do believe that this decision, which is a highly personal one, a highly emotional one, is one that is between a woman and her doctor, her family and her faith. Republicans 

Bill Lee: I would be for any restriction that would limit abortions. Anything we can do to reduce the number of abortions in this state, I would be in favor of. Nothing specific, just anything that would reduce the number of abortions.

Diane Black: Well, first of all, I think we should defund it. I don’t think we should be using taxpayer dollars to fund abortion services, and I've been very clear about this even to the director of Planned Parenthood, that if they would separate out the abortion clinic from what they do in the other Title X services that are providing, that I would support that effort. Good care, medical care, is something that I support. But I don't think taxpayer dollars should be used for abortions.

I think there are a number of restrictions that we have looked at in Congress that have not been passed and taken up by the Senate. One of those is the "Pain-Capable" bill. We know now, by science, that a 20-week-old baby does feel pain, and I don't think we should be doing abortions after 20 weeks. We are one of very few countries around the entire world that even do that. I think that would be a very good thing for us to pass.

Randy Boyd: My emphasis is going to be on pro-adoption. My wife was adopted, and we're very big advocates of adoption, so we're pro-life but we're going to focus on making Tennessee the best place in the country for adoption. I don't have specific ones (restrictions), but we'll look at all and consider all.

Beth Harwell: I think we've done a pretty good job in the state legislature of being very pro-life. I think that there are exceptions in the cases of rape and incest and the life of the mother, that we have made those exceptions. I think our abortion laws are some of the best in the nation, and I think that the laws we have in place are there to protect the women that are involved.

Copyright 2018 WPLN News

Chas joined WPLN in 2015 after eight years with The Tennessean, including more than five years as the newspaper's statehouse reporter.Chas has also covered communities, politics and business in Massachusetts and Washington, D.C. Chas grew up in South Carolina and attended Columbia University in New York, where he studied economics and journalism. Outside of work, he's a dedicated distance runner, having completed a dozen marathons