Vermont House lawmakers approved an amendment Tuesday to enshrine the “right” to abort an unborn baby up to birth in the state constitution.
Proposal 5 passed the state House in a 106-38 vote, according to Ballotpedia News. It also passed the state Senate earlier this spring. To be added to the Vermont Constitution, the amendment must be approved by the state legislature again in 2020, and then voters will have to agree to it on the ballot, likely in 2022.
Vermont Right to Life called the vote “very disappointing,” but promised to continue fighting to defend unborn babies in the state. Vermonters can find out how House members voted by clicking here and scrolling to page 1016.
Pro-abortion lawmakers are pushing the amendment based on fears that the U.S. Supreme Court could overturn Roe v. Wade. But pro-life advocates contend that the amendment is a radical pro-abortion proposal that would allow unborn babies to be aborted for basically any reason up to birth in the state.
The amendment would add the following language the Vermont Constitution: “That 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.”
State Sen. Virginia Lyons, a pro-abortion Democrat, argued that the amendment is necessary to protect legalized abortion in Vermont.
“The lack of a definitive enumeration of reproductive liberty in Vermont’s Constitution, the threat of Roe versus Wade being overturned by a very conservative U.S. Supreme Court and the cloud of a multistate initiative to pass restrictive punitive laws” makes the amendment necessary, Lyons said.
However, pro-life Republican and Democrat lawmakers expressed numerous concerns about the amendment before the vote, including how radical it is compared to their constituents’ views.
Rep. Vicki Strong, R-Albany, in a meeting of the Republican caucus, said Vermont is taking abortion rights to an excessive level.
“I just want to make sure you are all aware that this is making news all across the country,” she said. “We are going to this extreme, and I’ve heard from alumni from my college from 40 years ago, who are hearing about this in Texas, and emailing me saying to stand strong for life.”
Rep. Mark Higley, R-Lowell, noted that Vermont is moving counter to most other states on the issue of abortion.
“One of the things that I’ve been trying to wrap my head around recently is, there are 41 other states that have tried to pass abortion restrictions this year alone. … Are we wrong or are they wrong?” he said. “We are at such odds in regards to this that I just can’t imagine that they are all wrong, and I know for a fact that we do so much on the other extreme. Maybe there’s a middle-ground, but it’s definitely not in Proposal 5 and it’s not in this wording.”
Democratic state Rep. Cynthia Browning said she is concerned about future pro-life lawmakers being forced to swear to uphold a constitution with which they fundamentally disagree, the report continued.
“I’m incredulous that this issue never arose in the committee; it never occurred to someone, or if it did it was not something to be investigated,” Browning said.
And Republican state Rep. Anne Donahue pointed out that the phrase “reproductive autonomy” could be interpreted to mean men do not have to be “forced” to be fathers, according to the report.
“Although it’s presented as meaning contraception, sterilization and abortion, in fact, that’s not what it says,” she said. “It’s a much broader term, it’s a term far more open to interpretation and, in fact, could mean a great many things that we don’t currently envision.”
Vermont Right to Life also has complained about pro-abortion lawmakers obscuring the truth about abortion behind euphemisms in the amendment, even rejecting the advice of the American Civil Liberties Union and the state Attorney General’s Office.
“Abortion is the right that must not be named. Instead of clearly stating that protecting abortion is the intent, the Committee adopted the dangerously broad and undefined phrase ‘personal reproductive autonomy,’” according to the grassroots organization.
The amendment also is at odds with Americans’ views on abortion. A May 2018 Gallup poll found that 53 percent of Americans oppose all or most abortions.
Similarly, a national poll by Marist University found that three in four Americans (75 percent) say abortion should be limited to – at most – the first three months of pregnancy. This includes most Republicans (92 percent), Independents (78 percent) and Democrats (60 percent). It also includes more than six in 10 (61 percent) who identify as “pro-choice” on abortion.