In Committee this week: VT House considers apology for eugenics and sterilization, and expanding access to contraceptives

About 100 years after the heyday of the Vermont eugenics movement led by UVM Professor Henry Perkins (photo above), the Vermont Legislature this week is preparing an official apology to Abenaki, French-Canadians and others forced into sterilization under laws promulgated by previous General Assemblies. This week, the Legislature also is discussing increasing access to contraception, a bill heartily supported by Planned Parenthood, whose founder Margaret Sanger corresponded with Perkins and was an early beneficiary of his advocacy, as outlined in the book “Breeding Better Vermonters.”

By Guy Page

January 27, 2020 – General Housing & Military Affairs Committee today will hear testimony on JRH 7, a resolution apologizing for Vermont’s history of state sanctioned eugenics and sterilization, sponsored by Rep. Kate Webb (D-Shelburne). It reads:

“In 1925, UVM zoology professor Henry F. Perkins established the dubious Eugenics Survey of Vermont to measure defective behavior, “depravity,” and “immorality,” and it targeted members of Abenaki bands, Vermonters of mixed racial or French-Canadian heritage, the poor, and persons with disabilities. The General Assembly adopted 1931 Acts and Resolves No. 174, “An Act for Human Betterment By Voluntary Sterilization,” to prevent the procreation of individuals belonging predominately to these groups. This eugenically inspired legislation resulted in the sterilization of Vermonters, often without their fully informed voluntary consent, and the devastating impact on the lives of the sterilized individuals and their families was irreversible.

“On June 21, 2019, the University of Vermont issued a formal statement of sincere apology for its “unethical and regrettable” eugenics role, and the General Assembly, on behalf of the State of Vermont, should issue a similar apology. 

“Now therefore be it Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives: That the General Assembly apologizes and expresses its sincere sorrow to all Vermonters and their families who were harmed as a result of State-sanctioned and eugenically inspired sterilization.”

Complete listing of bills, topic in House Committee this week

Also on the subject of birth control, the House Human Services Thursday will discuss two bills expanding contraception. “I think this will be an exciting bill that folks will support,” Chair Ann Pugh (D-South Burlington) told the House Democratic caucus today of H663, sponsored by Rep. Francis McFaun (R-Barre Town) and other members of her committee. 

Vermont Right to Life and Planned Parenthood testified about H663 in committee last week. 

“It has nothing to do with abortion,” Pugh said. “It has to do with preventing the abortion….When Right to Life testified they didn’t quite understand what is current law and where we are going.” The bill is “not creating new mandates,” she insisted. 

According to its introductory statement, H663 would (quoted verbatim):

  1. require health insurance plans to cover all methods and forms of contraceptives without cost sharing. 
  2. require school districts to make free over-the-counter contraceptives available to all secondary school students
  3.  Direct the Department of Health to coordinate with stakeholders to make free over-the counter contraceptives available in a variety of settings statewide.

Written and oral testimony provided to Pugh’s committee last Friday by Vermont Right to Life policy analyst Sharon Toborg of Barre shows a hands-on parental understanding of the status of contraception in schools:

“Speaking now as a parent, in my local school district, the Barre Unified Union District, condoms are available to students in grades 7 – 12. I have asked for information about what would happen if a child under the age of 15 asked for condoms, given Vermont’s sexual assault statute. I have not received an answer. The materials the school distributes with the condoms includes an information sheet about sexting, making it very clear that any nude photo of a child under 18 could be considered child pornography, which is always illegal. However, it does not make it clear that sexual activity involving children under 15 is always against the law.

“The sexuality indoctrination my child received at Spaulding High School was basically a free advertisement for Planned Parenthood. The web-based assignments had links to Planned Parenthood,and constant reminders that they are the ones to go to for services and parents can be kept in the dark. One assignment given presented the scenario that two kids wanted to have sex, but did not want to get pregnant. Students were asked to describe 3 ways the kids could have their wants and needs met.”

Other testimony opposing H663 last Friday included the Alliance for Defending Freedom, and a Vermont Law Review article by Theresa Stanton Collett entitled “Protecting Our Daughters.”

See Vermont Daily Chronicle’s “In Committee This Week” for other bills and issues of interest under discussion by House committees:

  • Homeless Bill of Rights
  • Stormwater parcel fee
  • Gender balance on UVM trustee board
  • Global Warming Solutions Act
  • Health impact of commercial cannabis
  • Woodside, Middlesex secure youth facilities
  • Menthol cigarette ban
  • Prostitution legalization study
  • Reclassifying property offenses
  • EV fees, weight-based vehicle registration.