Vermont tries to pass amendment protecting abortion rights

Other states seeking to restrict access

By Michelle Lou
Win McNamee/Getty Images

As a handful of states seek to restrict access to abortions, Vermont lawmakers are taking steps to protect abortion rights in the state.

In recent months, Georgia, Mississippi and Ohio have enacted controversial laws that ban abortions if a fetal heartbeat can be detected, which can occur as early as six weeks.

Vermont, however, is taking a different stance. The state legislature has passed Proposal 5 to amend the state constitution to protect personal reproductive liberty and guarantee the right to an abortion.

The bill started in the Senate, where it was approved 28-2 last month. The House passed it 106-38 on Tuesday. Before it can become law, the state legislature would need to pass the bill again next year, and voters would need to approve it in a 2022 referendum.

State Sen. Virginia Lyons is one of the amendment's sponsors.

"The lack of a definitive enumeration of reproductive liberty in Vermont's constitution, the threat of Roe v. Wade being overturned by a very conservative US Supreme Court and the cloud of a multi-state initative to pass restrictive/punitive laws all build a strong case for Prop 5 to go to the voters," Lyons said during debate on the proposal last week.

State Rep. Anne Donahue voted against the amendment because she believes the amendment's language is vague. Donahue pointed to the term "reproductive autonomy."

"(The term) isn't actually defined, and is far broader that just those categories -- open to very broad future interpretation in ways not imagined or intended currently," Donahue said in a statement to CNN.

"An obvious, current example would be how it would apply to the reproductive autonomy it would guarantee to a man who wanted to have his child born: would the state be barred from funding the woman's abortion, as that would deny him his right to reproductive autonomy? But science is also moving forward rapidly in new means of reproduction."

The vague language could lead to multiple different interpretations of the law, she added.

There's a long road ahead

If the amendment makes it through, Vermont would become the first state to enshrine abortion access in its constitution, says Catherine Glenn Foster, president of pro-life group Americans United for Life.

Maryland tried to pass a similar measure during this legislative session, but it failed, says Elizabeth Nash of the Guttmacher Institute, which researches reproductive health and rights. Nash added that she is not aware of any other states that have attempted anything similar.

"We applaud Vermont's legislature for making its position clear on reproductive freedom, that protecting the health, dignity and civil rights of Vermonters is urgently important," Meagan Gallagher, president of Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, said in a statement. "Vermont has established itself as the shining example for all other states by acknowledging that every person is capable of -- and must be trusted to -- make their own health care decisions without government interference."

Eric Scheidler, executive director of the Pro-Life Action League, said the constitutional amendment "would have little immediate impact."

"This is really just the legislature of Vermont virtue-signaling that it's on board with the Democratic party's growing abortion extremism -- an extremism far out of step with the view of most Americans that some limits ought to be placed on abortion," Scheidler said.

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