With the future of Roe in the hands of a conservative Supreme Court, Vermont legislators have moved to enshrine abortion access into the state constitution.
This summer, the Supreme Court is expected to issue a ruling on a case involving a Mississippi law banning abortions at 15 weeks. The court’s decision could potentially overturn or greatly weaken Roe v. Wade, which enshrines a person’s right to an abortion under the Constitution. Rather than waiting for that potential implosion, Vermont has taken matters into its own hands, moving one step closer this week to passing its own abortion rights legislation.
The Personal Reproductive Liberty Amendment, or Proposition 5, would make Vermont the first state to explicitly protect reproductive rights within its own constitution. Per local outlet NBC5, the legislation states:
An individual’s right to personal reproductive autonomy is central to the liberty and dignity to determine one’s own life course, and shall not be denied or infringed unless justified by a compelling state interest achieved by the least restrictive means.
The resolution was first passed by the state Senate in spring 2019. Then it made its way to the state House this year — where, on Tuesday, it passed with a 107-41 vote.
Democratic legislators have stressed the importance of Proposition 5 as federal abortion protections become increasingly tenuous. The Portland Press Herald reported that Democratic state Rep. Ann Pugh said, “While the right to reproductive autonomy, and abortion care, remains for the time being a fundamental right at the national level, it has been and continues to be under serious attack. In this turbulent time clarity is called for.”
Of course, conservatives have launched repeated attacks against Proposition 5. The Washington Post reported that during Tuesday’s debates, state Rep. Anne Donahue (R) said that while “individuals inherently do control their reproductive decisions,” that control ends “once biological reproduction has occurred.”
Donahue also tried likening preserving abortion rights to segregation or eugenics, stating, “We as human beings have made a lot of mistakes at times when we thought we were doing the right thing. ... When we start putting a current belief in the constitution, I think we’re playing with fire.”
There’s not enough time in the world to unpack why comparing the preservation of abortion rights to segregation is absurd, so we’ll just note that abortion bans have a disproportionate impact on low-income people and communities of color.
Abortion advocates in Vermont are celebrating Proposition 5’s progression. Lucy Leriche, vice president of Vermont Public Policy at Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, told the Post that she hopes it can be a “model” for other states. “In states all over the country, politicians are moving to take away reproductive rights, specifically abortion rights, and we could be an example of another way,” Leriche said.
Now the measure heads to Vermont Gov. Phil Scott (R). He has to give public notice before the bill is added to the ballot for November. Given that 70% of people in Vermont say abortion should be legal, it is expected to pass.