By Guy Page
Yesterday, the Senate triumphantly passed H.89, a “shield” bill protecting abortion and transgender providers from virtually all legal challenges. This afternoon, the House stands poised to give initial approval to S.37, which offers other abortion/trangender legal protections and exposes pro-life pregnancy resource clinics to civil action.
H.89 passed 26-4 on Tuesday, April 18. The four “no” votes were Republicans Brian Collamore of Rutland, Russ Ingalls of Essex, Robert Norris of Franklin, and Terry Williams of Rutland. It was given final approval on a voice vote yesterday.
H.89 saw a last minute addition allowing the use of the chemical abortion drug mifepristone, even if the federal government outlaws it. A statement issued yesterday by Sens. Nader Hashim (bill reporter and Judiciary Vice-Chair), Ginny Lyons (Health & Welfare Chair), and Senate Pro Tem Phil Baruth said: “Additionally, an amendment was added to the bill today in response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s current consideration of whether to revoke federal approval for mifepristone, a safe and effective drug commonly used for abortion care and miscarriage. The approved amendment would protect Vermonters’ access to this drug regardless of federal approval.”
Using terms like “loud and clear” and “full stop,” the three senators said:
“Vermont has been loud and clear, even before the Dobbs decision, that we will choose to protect and preserve access to reproductive and gender-affirming healthcare as evidenced by codifying these rights in statute, resolutions and our constitution. Additionally, in light of recent litigation throwing into question access to safe abortion medication, today’s amendment will ensure that Vermonters can still access this medication regardless of SCOTUS’s future ruling on its approval.” – Hashim
“Last summer the Dobbs decision upended national understanding of reproductive autonomy and access to modern medical standards of care. Litigation now threatens access to safe and effective medication used for early pregnancy loss, miscarriage, abortion, and other reproductive care. H.89 will protect Vermont’s reproductive and gender-affirming care providers and access to safe, effective and essential abortion medication.” – Lyons
“In light of recent litigation threatening access to abortion medication, and in the wake of the Dobbs decision, state-level protections for abortion and gender-affirming care providers and patients have become even more critical. H.89 makes clear that reproductive and gender-affirming care is a legal right in Vermont and that patients and providers will be protected. Full stop.” – Baruth
Both H.89 and S.37 are billed as “concerning legally protected health care activity” and have some language in common. It is rare for the Vermont Legislature to pass two, somewhat overlapping bills simultaneously. But in Vermont, abortion is a peculiar institution, when ‘peculiar’ is understood by the dictionary definition of “special, or unique.”
The abortion/transgender lobby is extremely influential in Vermont. Planned Parenthood, former employer of House Speaker Jill Krowinski, is the nation’s leading abortion provider and in 2021 offered gender-affirming therapy to 35,000 patients.
Last November, voters overwhelmingly supported Act 22, enshrining reproductive liberty in the state constitution. This vote was interpreted as a mandate for expanding abortion and transgender rights. Furthermore the 2022 U.S. Supreme Court overturning of Roe V. Wade and recent federal court decisions regulating chemical abortion drugs have motivated pro-legal abortion lawmakers to protect abortion rights as much as possible within state boundaries.
In House action today, In addition to the S. 37 mifeprestone amendment to be brought by Rep. Lori Houghton (chair of Health Care), four Republicans – Reps. Mark Higley, Mike Morgan, Terri Williams, and Anne Donahue – will offer amendments, including offering more protection for pregnancy resource centers and allowing use of ‘abortion reversal’ medications.
Gov. Phil Scott has said he supports both bills. Groups opposing the bills, like the Vermont Family Alliance, say elements of the bill could be struck down in federal court.