Life&Death

New Vermont bills limiting abortion likely unconstitutional if Prop 5 passes

House Committee to begin Prop 5 review tomorrow

By Guy Page

Recently-introduced abortion-related bills intended to protect minors and Down Syndrome children would likely be ruled unconstitutional if Prop 5, a proposed change in the Vermont Constitution, is approved by voters in November. 

H.564, sponsored by Reps. Vicki Strong (R-Albany), Sally Achey (R-Middletown Springs), and Lisa Hango (R-Berkshire)  would require notification of a parent or guardian prior to performing an abortion on a minor.  

H.565, sponsored by the same three lawmakers, would require the performance of a fetal ultrasound prior to obtaining an abortion. This bill proposes to require that, “at least 24 hours prior to performing an abortion, the abortion services provider must perform a fetal ultrasound and auscultation of fetal heart tone services on the patient and offer the patient the opportunity to view the active ultrasound image and hear the heartbeat of the unborn child if the heartbeat is audible.”

H.576 and would ban selective abortions based on sex, Down syndrome, or genetic abnormalities. Sponsors include Strong, Achey and Hango, and also lead sponsor Carl Rosenquist (R-Georgia) and Art Peterson (R-Clarendon). 

As noted in the Oct. 6 Vermont Daily Chronicle, the same legislative leaders pushing for unrestricted abortion – including the indiscriminate abortion of Down Syndrome babies – last fall offered a public apology on the State House steps for the pro-eugenics legislation of a century ago. 

All three bills have been sent to the House Committee on Human Services. Based on recent history, it is unlikely they will get a hearing or be sent to the House floor. Committee Chair Ann Pugh has received an award from the Planned Parenthood political action committee – for her pro-legal abortion advocacy. The Democratic majority on the committee also typically oppose bills limiting abortion.

Nevertheless, if the political winds shifted 180 degrees and the bills were approved, this year all three bills would likely pass constitutional muster in courts basing decisions on Roe V. Wade, the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision permitting abortion but also allowing states to impose limits. However, all three bills would almost certainly be ruled unconstitutional if Proposition 5, enshrining unrestricted access to abortion in the Vermont Constitution, is approved by voters in a statewide referendum this November. 

The proposed constitutional change reads as follows: “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 bythe least restrictive means.”

Before Prop 5 goes to voters, however, it must go before the Vermont House for a second time. Constitutional amendments need approval by successive legislatures. Prop 5 has been okayed by the Senate and House of the previous (2019-2020) biennial legislature, and was approved by the Senate last year. There also will be a public hearing, although both the date and details are unclear at this time. 

The House Human Services Committee will review Prop 5 Wednesday morning. Among those invited to testify are the Secretary of State’s office, the ACLU-Vermont, and pro-life doctor Joseph Nasca.

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