Prop 5 a Can of Worms?
By Cathy Dodge
This November, Vermont voters will be asked if they support amending Section 2 – the individual rights section – of the Vermont Constitution for the first time in the state’s history. Two weeks ago Vermont Daily Chronicle published Part One of a series informing voters on the proposed change to enshrine ‘personal reproductive liberty’ in state’s constitution. Today – Part Two.
Sec 2, Article 22 [Personal Reproductive Liberty] of Chapter I of the Vermont Constitution added to read:
“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.”
In the first part of this series, we had a general discussion about the problems generated by the loose and open-ended language of Article 22. Part 2 will begin to dig deeper into specific issues that are at risk of becoming major issues if this change to our Constitution is put in place. Remember “personal autonomy” is all about self interest. But, we need laws that bring people together to solve issues, not divide us further. The “least restrictive means” equates to letting the courts decide. We also need lawmakers who don’t avoid responsible discussion over the hard issues in order to look at every perspective and come up with the best solutions; that is, in this case, to avoid tying up the courts because the amendment is not specific enough to designate process.
The need for legal clarity is not a partisan issue.
“Ironically enough, former Democratic Governor Howard Dean recently retweeted a video of Justice Souter talking about the fundamental breakdowns in society when problems are not addressed and people don’t know who is responsible,” Paul Dame, Chairman Republican Party, said.
The following issues of mother’s and father’s rights may seem like they should be self-evident; but if you look at the open endedness of the language of Article 22, you will see that their rights may no longer be straight forward should Article 22 pass. Each of the following segments digs into the potential problems created by the loopholes of the language. No one law can ever cover every circumstance that might arise, but when the problems are already evident, it should be an indication that more discussion and evaluation are needed; or simply voted out by we the people as bad legislation. You will have that opportunity come November.
Problem 3: Women’s Mental Health
As the issue of reproductive rights heats up, we draw a fine line between politicizing women’s health issues and allowing for the privacy of women and their families in making decisions about raising families, childbirth and nurturing their souls. As the following survey results will demonstrate, there are more pressures for women making decisions about pregnancy now than ever before. If we are watching out for the rights and privacies of all our Vermont families, there is good reason to make their mental health a priority in discussing reproductive health laws. Those women who cherish life and bringing babies into the world, are as important as those who choose not to give birth. It seems we are forgetting our most vulnerable human population – babies, by becoming overly focused on “fixing” circumstances for those who want to be exceptions to natural reproductive laws, and less focused on those who are secure in who they are, functioning in their natural reproductive form.
The following are the results based on an anonymous survey of 987 women who sought post abortion counseling at pregnancy centers and specifically those who regretted their abortions decisions. This survey indicates that coercion is a problem.
- 73.8% of post-abortive women surveyed admitted that they experienced at least subtle forms of pressure to terminate their pregnancies
- 58.3% indicated that they decided to abort in order to make others happy
- Close to 30% of survey respondents admitted that they were afraid that they would lose their partner if they didn’t abort.
- 66% said they felt abortion was wrong
- 67.5% said it was one of the hardest decisions of their lives
“Women Who Suffered Emotionally from Abortion: A Qualitative Synthesis of Their Experiences” Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons, Vol 22, No 4, Winter 2017
There is considerable documentation on the guilt and shame expressed by women interviewed years after their abortions regarding their continued feelings about their experience and the regrets they have.
Maureen Curley, PhD., APRN & expert in post abortion trauma says she used to be pro-choice but changed her mind when she found that she has lost too many people to suicide after the procedure. She writes, “I feel very committed to ensuring that women are safe and their mental health is protected and that they’re adequately informed of the risks”.
Add to these, the question of whether there will be legal standing to take women before the courts in order to determine her “right” to deliver and we are walking a fine line between legally forcing a woman’s decision and actually taking away her unalienable right as a mother.
Problem 4: Mother’s Rights
It’s amazing to me that so many of us can spend time and money worrying about the natural environment and saving cats, dogs and other ill treated animals; and yet be so indifferent and even hostile toward the natural process of childbirth and the potential legal threats to its existence. As far as women’s rights go, Article 22 pretty much opens up a can of worms that are threats to the lives of naturally born children, families and the moms that bring them into the world. In many ways Article 22 threatens mother’s rights to carry children to term and give birth.
If you read the section above about women’s mental health issues, whether you are for or against abortion, we need to ensure that a woman’s right to carry a child to term is as much protected as those who now want abortion; that we are not putting women in crisis by making the natural process of childbirth a stigma. Does a mother now have to worry about a spouse changing their mind and ending up in a court battle; that any coercions as exemplified in Problem 3 above can be taken to court?
“Let’s say the mother of an unborn child wishes to have an abortion, but the father wants the child to be born. Whose right to “personal reproductive autonomy” does the Constitution protect? The mother’s or the father’s? Do grandparents have any rights under Prop 5[now Article 22] that the courts must consider? Believe it or not, it’s legally unclear. The woman in this scenario could be placed in a position where she would have to hire and pay a lawyer and go before a judge.” Matthew Strong, Vermonters for Good Government In this case, it’s also possible that the courts could be so backed up that by the time the decision was made, an abortion would not be advisable.
And then there’s the question of surrogates. How will their lives be affected by court battles and disagreements amongst spouses they are surrogates for, that put them into the middle of a moral decision for themselves? What will their rights be as the surrogate to sustain and bring that birth to full term?
Problem 5: Father’s Rights
As part of the autonomy definition, men or even spouses of either gender are inferred to have rights also. Certainly in a loving relationship those decisions are made before pregnancy. On the other hand, if the partner does not want the birth to take place, whether living in the same home or outside, we know from the survey results above that this change would allow a legal access to influence a woman to abort. What if the woman is a surrogate? Where do those rights begin and end in these circumstances?
If the woman wants an abortion and the spouse does not, how does that play out with any kind of autonomy in the court room; when an abortion is a challenge to a man’s right to reproduce? Though H57 would give the woman a right to an abortion, Article 22, as a Constitutional Law would supersede those rights Are these really the kind of controversies we want to see in our families and tying up the legal system?
Fathers would have an opportunity to get out of paying child support by saying they did not want to reproduce. They could request the mother have a choice to terminate the pregnancy or take full responsibility for future support of the child.
Again, until these potential circumstances are examined and outcomes thought through, we have the makings of upheaval of the family unit as we know it. This would put pressure on family and child advocacy groups for funding and personnel as well as the State welfare system at large.
The vote on Article 22 being added to the Vermont Constitution is now in our hands as the we the people of Vermont, come November. Make sure you are informed and vote NO!
In the next part of this series we will talk about how Article 22 will affect costs to taxpayers, healthcare, and more. Keep watching……
Please feel free to forward this to your contact lists in order that the People of Vermont in all walks of life may understand why we need to vote NO on Article 22.
The author is a West Danville resident.