by Tom McLinden
It is no secret that many Republicans are right-to-life, but Republicans take on Article 22 might surprise you. Many right-to-life Republicans recognize reluctantly that Vermont is very strongly pro-choice, has been since 1972, and will remain that way. There are also many Pro-choice members in the Republican Party. So why then have these two groups banded together to oppose Article 22?
While past Republican opposition to abortion has been based on the belief that the practice itself is immoral, that is not the case here. Their primary objection to Article 22 is that it would sanction late term abortion up to the moment of birth. Polls consistently show most people, including Pro-choice voters, support common sense restrictions on late term abortions.
Article 22 supporters and many letters on these pages have attested that late term abortions happen rarely if ever, and there are protocols in place to make sure this is the case. The problem is that is not what Article 22 says.
Article 22 creates a foundational principal in the VT Constitution that allows a practice the vast majority of voters don’t want. A lawyer once told me “Don’t believe what the salesman is telling you when you’re signing the document, believe what the document says.” So in spite of the many insurances that this will never happen, the document says it can. If this amendment goes into effect a national company specializing in late term abortions could set up shop in Burlington and there will be nothing anyone can do to stop them. Who knows if that would happen, but under Article 22 it could.
Article 22 is not simply a guarantee of abortion rights already on the books, If it were I believe even Republican opposition would be muted. Instead it is a pandoras box of rights not even lawyers fully understand. That’s because Article 22 doesn’t even use the word “woman” or “abortion”. Instead it says: “an individual’s right to personal reproductive autonomy”. No one I’ve talked to really understands what this means. In legal terms an “individual” is much different than a “woman”; an individual can be any age or gender. An earlier editorial on these pages asked what male “personal reproductive autonomy” will look like. Given the use of the term “individual” instead of “woman” both men and women will be covered by Article 22. Will women now be required to take their reproductive partner’s needs into account when considering whether to carry a pregnancy to term? The answer seems to be: the courts will decide. Aren’t the courts what got us into this mess in the first place? Are we really considering a Constitutional Amendment who’s language is so vague that it is destined to end up back in the courts?
Constitutional Amendments are forever. Who knows fifty years from now what medical advances may allow humans to reproduce, cloning comes to mind, and there is likely to be other alternatives too frightening to consider. But under Article 22 the sky would be the limit, regulation of any human reproduction by any means would be unconstitutional.
Vermonters pride themselves in being leaders when it comes to legislation. But creating the least restrictive abortion rights in the country is not a category Vermont wants to lead. Advances in medicine now allow us to see things we couldn’t see when Roe vs. Wade was decided almost 50 years ago. We can now see the stages of development during pregnancy that we couldn’t see back then. We now know there is a point in the pregnancy where the evidence of a new human life is unmistakable. Given this information deciding how to balance women’s rights during pregnancy requires a delicate and serious discussion, that should rise above partisan bickering, to reach a solution befitting Vermonter’s unusual sense of kindness and compassion. It is time Vermonters address the new realities that face us. It is not a time for extreme solutions on either side, and certainly not a race to impress others with how smart and forward-thinking we are. And it’s certainly not a time to denigrate those with whom we disagree.
This is not an issue for any party to win or lose. If we do this wrong we all lose. This is an opportunity to define Vermont’s soul; to tell ourselves and others what kind of people we are. We should not allow ourselves to be defined by our differences but by our strengths, our compassion, and our aspiration to become our better selves. There is a way to do this but Article 22 is not the answer. This is not who we are, we can do better.
“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.”
The author is the chair of the Stowe Republican Town Committee.