By Annisa Lamberton, Vermonters for the Common Good
When our legislature returns to Montpelier this January, the House will vote on whether to advance a Constitutional Amendment, Proposal 5 (aka Article 22), for a public referendum. We will all vote on it in November 2022.
This Amendment is being sold to the public as a guarantee of Roe v. Wade protections for abortion, but it actually goes much further than Roe v. Wade, allowing for abortion on demand throughout all nine months of pregnancy, with zero legal protections for unborn children, even after viability outside the womb.
Proposal 5 does not reflect Vermonters’ values. The vast majority of Vermonters agree that abortion should not extend throughout all nine months of pregnancy, and that the law should include at least some protections for the unborn child, especially after viability at 23 weeks. However, Proposal 5, which says, “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 [emphasis added] unless justified by a compelling State interest achieved by the least restrictive means,” would effectively eliminate any ability of the state to regulate or restrict abortion at any point during pregnancy. It would restrict our laws from advancing along with scientific knowledge. Enshrining this wording in our constitution goes way too far, much beyond what even most pro-choice people believe to be a reasonable right to choose and far beyond what Roe v. Wade states.
In addition to guaranteeing abortion throughout all nine months of pregnancy for any reason, Proposal 5 would also prohibit a physician or clinic from notifying a parent or legal guardian before performing an abortion on a minor, something a majority of Vermonters think should be mandatory except in extreme situations.
Some legal analysts believe that Proposal 5, since it confers a right, would require individual doctors and nurses to participate in abortions or sterilizations regardless of their personal beliefs or even against their medical judgment. This is, again, a policy with which most Vermonters disagree.
The vague language in the Proposal of the “right to personal reproductive autonomy” will likely be interpreted to mean that taxpayers will be responsible for funding more than abortions, but it will also include fertility treatments, gender transformation surgery, sterilizations (even of minors), and any number of services and procedures that could conceivably fall under this “reproductive” umbrella. This vague concept goes far beyond what most people consider responsible action, without informing Vermonters to the costs for taxpayers or to potential impacts for minors.
The science and understanding of fetal development, as well as medical technology, has come a long way since 1973 and Roe v. Wade. It makes sense that we as a society are having a renewed debate about abortion rights, as well as where the rights of the unborn should come into play. It may also make sense that we update our laws to reflect that balance in light of the new science and cultural expectations since 1973. But whatever we decide at the end of this debate, the laws of our state and especially our Constitution should be a balanced reflection of our shared values. Proposal 5 does not respect shared values or balance of any sort.
Most Vermonters are probably unaware that three votes, two in the Senate and one in the House, have already taken place to advance amending our state Constitution with Proposal 5. It is unacceptable that such a radical change in policy has been taking place for so long, largely behind closed doors with little public outreach or ability for in-person input, and in opposition to where a majority of Vermonters really stand on the details and interpretations that will impact us all.
The Vermont House is expected to vote on Proposal 5 a final time in January, which would put the issue before voters in November 2022. If that happens, we’ll have a year to debate Vermont’s future before the voters ultimately decide the fate of Proposal 5. Let’s make sure the debate is vigorous and informed.