by Matthew Strong
With the decision in Dobbs v. Jackson overriding Roe v. Wade, returning responsibility for laws surrounding abortion to the states, it is important for Vermonters to remember that this has no impact whatsoever on abortion law in Vermont. Act 47 of 2019, which guarantees a woman’s right to choose an abortion, was the law of the land in Vermont before Dobbs, and it will be the law of the land after Dobbs.
As such, there are no steps necessary to take in Vermont to preserve women’s right to choose, and it would be a mistake for pro-choice Vermonters to pass Proposal 5/Article 22 in response to the Dobbs verdict.
Overriding the clear language in statute of Act 47, which says, “the State of Vermont recognizes the fundamental right of every individual who becomes pregnant to choose to carry a pregnancy to term, to give birth to a child, or to have an abortion,” with the vague Constitutional language of Article 22 would be a step backward for women’s reproductive rights.
Article 22 says in its entirety, “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.”
Unlike Act 47, Article 22 does not mention “pregnancy”, “abortion”, or the “individual who becomes pregnant.” Constitutionally overriding this clarity with an undefined, universal right to “personal reproductive autonomy,” which applies equally to the biological father as it does to the pregnant woman, could undermine a woman’s right to make decisions surrounding her pregnancy on her own and without consideration for and of the new rights of the biological father.
Newly announced VFGG spokesperson Anne Donahue stated, “The knee-jerk reaction that we need Prop 5/Article 22 in response to the Dobbs decision is based on very misleading information about a radical position. Protection of Roe v Wade only means protection of access to abortion before viability, and existing Vermont law already covers all abortion. Article 22 goes far beyond Roe v. Wade and creates unfettered access to abortion of babies up to 9 months as a constitutional right. It creates a Pandora’s box of questions for future courts to decide.”
Annisa Lamberton, also of Vermonters for Good Government said, “We are opposed to Proposal 5/Article 22 because it is bad law – poorly written, unclear in its intent, and even more unclear as to its ultimate impact.
“If Article 22 should become part of our Constitution and have the disastrous unintended consequences for women and abortion law in Vermont in general that we expect it will, we would be stuck with the unacceptable results for at least a decade before it could be fixed. Given Act 47, Article 22 is an unnecessary risk for women, or any pro-choice Vermonters, to take.”
The author is the executive director of Vermonters for Good Government.