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Vermont Congressional Leaders Host Roundtable On Reproductive Rights

Reproductive rights roundtable
Pat Bradley
Participants in the Abortion Rights roundtable (from left): Kalin Gregory-Davis with UVM Medical Students for Choice, VT ACLU attorney Falco Schilling, State Senator Ginny Lyons, activist Melinda Moulton, U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders, Vermont House Representative Ann Pugh, Congressman Peter Welch, Joshua Diamond from the Vermont Attorney General’s office and Planned Parenthood of Northern New England VP Lucy Leriche.

Vermont Congressman Peter Welch and U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders met with abortion rights advocates and lawmakers in Burlington Monday to discuss two measures, one federal and one state, aimed at protecting women’s reproductive rights.

Vermont’s at-large Democratic Congressman and Independent Senator met with the head of the regional Planned Parenthood office, attorneys from the ACLU and the Vermont Attorney General’s office, and state legislators to discuss protecting women’s reproductive rights.

Vermont is entering the final phases of a state constitutional amendment process that would add a clause stating:

“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.”

House Human Services Committee Chair and South Burlington Democrat Ann Pugh read the single sentence that would guarantee “personal reproductive liberty” in the Vermont constitution. She says Proposition 5, or the Reproductive Liberty Amendment, has already passed the first of two consecutive biennium legislative votes and will be considered again when the legislature convenes in January.

“Personal reproductive liberty. It’s about more than just abortion. The importance of Proposition 5 to Vermonters cannot be understated. It was important before and it is important even more now given what is happening nationally.”

The recent signing of a restrictive new anti-abortion law in Texas highlights advocates’ concerns. Planned Parenthood of Northern New England Vice President of Public Policy Lucy Leriche warned that states are planning copycat laws.

“Right next door in New Hampshire we have a lawmaker who has vowed to jump on the bandwagon and pass a similar law. And then we’ve seen over 600 separate restrictions or attempted restrictions introduced in the United States. That is the worst year in terms of restrictions introduced nationally since the Roe decision was decided in 1973.”

Congressman Welch is sponsoring H.R. 3755, The Women’s Health Protection Act, to guarantee reproductive rights nationally. He said the new Texas law is adding an urgency to protect women’s rights.

“It’s an astonishing thing that happened in Texas. It appears to be absolutely and clearly unconstitutional. The second thing it does is staggeringly dangerous. It essentially creates a vigilante mob enforcement mechanism. In the House I believe this week we’re going to take up legislation that all the Democrats I believe in the House are co-sponsoring to codify Roe v. Wade and protect the right of women throughout the states.”

Senator Sanders says protecting reproductive rights is a human rights issue.

“I want to say a word to the men out there and I want you all to be thinking about how you would feel if the government told you what you had to do with your own body. You would say this is outrageous. This is unacceptable. This is a deniable of my basic rights. And it is. We are in this together. This is not a women’s issue. It’s not a men’s issue. This is a human right’s issue.”

Main Street Landing CEO Melinda Moulton is a long-time women’s and civil rights advocate. She related her family’s experience before abortion became legal.

“I am 71 years old. I am here today to lend historical context to this discussion and to tell you why the Texas abortion ban should scare all of us. I remember the night my mother was rushed to the hospital because she was found bleeding on the floor of our bathroom. Years later I learned from my aunt that my mother attempted and succeeded to abort her pregnancy," recalls Moulton. "My mother died in 1962 eleven years before abortion was made safe and legal in this country and she was just 40 years old. Women will always, always choose their own reproductive destiny. And the reality is it will either be at the dangerous end of a coat hanger or it will remain safe in the capable and trained hands of a professional. We must ensure that it remains the latter.”

If Vermont’s Proposition 5 passes in the upcoming legislative session it would then go before voters in November 2022.

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