Editor’s note: the author wrote this speech to deliver on the floor of the Vermont House of Representatives yesterday, during debate about Prop 5, the proposed constitutional amendment allowing unrestricted abortion and “reproductive autonomy.” The House voted 107-41 to support Prop 5. Voters will decide Nov. 8 whether to ratify the Legislature’s decision.
by Rep. Art Peterson (R-Clarendon)
Proposal 5 reads, in part, 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
The intent of these words is about more than abortion. Though abortion ends the lives of around 1200 babies every year in Vermont this amendment could have impact far beyond the fate of the unborn.
Take, for instance, the case of a mother who brought her 9 year old daughter to VT from another state for “sexual training” that was alleged to have been performed by a producer with CNN. If you don’t know of this it was in the December 14, 2021 edition of VT Digger. I think I can safely say that all members of this body who read the piece were appalled. But if we assume that use of reproductive organs is a component of personal reproduction, and that sexual training most certainly would include some element of the use of those organs, is it far fetched to say that, if the 9 year old agreed to the training, it could be considered constitutionally protected under this new amendment, which has no specified age limit? Is this a business model for private sex education? Is this the type of business we want to establish in our state?
In a 2017 article entitled “The Future of Reproductive Autonomy” law professor John Robertson asserts that reproductive autonomy includes “the freedom to have sex without reproduction”. If this is now a ‘right’ does it set the stage for legal prostitution and sex work in Vermont? The courts may say that it does. So that could mean sex work at any age as long as you’re following your own “life course”! The occasional pregnancy caused by sex work can be easily cared for by Planned Parenthood. Is this what we want for Vermont? Is this how we attract much needed families and work force to our state?
If “personal reproductive autonomy” is a ‘right’ will taxpayers be on the hook to pay for abortions, sterilization, infertility and surrogacy, gender surgeries….and Planned Parenthood itself?? What about those of us who conscientiously object on moral grounds to supporting these procedures? These questions should be in the minds of everyone as we decide on this issue today.
Finally, some random but relevant information: the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 which was updated in 2020 makes it illegal to take bird eggs out of a nest of a long list of migratory birds. Here’s my question: why would we consider the eggs of an animal a future life, and protect it, and not consider a fetus in the womb a future human life, and protect it? What about the ‘life course’ of the unborn?
There are many in this chamber who have spent a great part of their lives helping the sick, the poor, the homeless, the vulnerable, and anyone else who needs a hand up. You are to be commended for your work. But now we’re faced with a proposal that will most heavily impact those same groups and it’s up to us to act responsibly. Unethical and unconstrained activities such as what this amendment promotes will always have a negative impact on the most vulnerable, and there is nothing more defenseless and vulnerable than a child in the womb.
This proposed amendment could open the door to unknown experiments in human exploitation that we cannot anticipate today. To support it is irresponsible and beneath the good conscience of this body. Given that our present laws already guarantee the unfettered right to an abortion I ask my colleagues to vote NO to Proposal 5.
The author is Vermont House of Representatives member for Clarendon, West Rutland, Wallingford, Tinmouth, and Proctor. He is a United States Military Academy (West Point) graduate, class of 1973 and has resided in Clarendon since 1978. He is married, has four grown children and twelve grandchildren.