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Vermont House approves reproductive liberty amendment

Vermont House chamber
Pat Bradley/WAMC
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Vermont House chamber (file)

In November Vermonters will decide whether the state constitution should be changed to assure personal reproductive freedom. Proposition 5 was passed by the House on Tuesday, the last step in the amendment process before moving to voters.

The amendment process began in the last biennium and had to pass in two consecutive bienniums before being put before voters. The first legislative vote occurred on May 7, 2019 and passed on a 106 to 38 vote.

The Vermont House voted by a similar margin Tuesday, sending the amendment to the voters.

House members could not change or amend the proposal. Human Services Committee Chair Ann Pugh, a Democrat from South Burlington, provided a review of Proposition 5 and why it was introduced.

“We can no longer rely on federal courts to uphold the protection for fundamental reproductive rights based on the federal Constitution. With this reproductive amendment we have the opportunity to enshrine these rights in the Vermont Constitution." Pugh added, "The proposal for Article 22 of the Constitution is one sentence: “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.”

There was passionate debate on both sides. Jericho Democrat George Till, a physician, said there is a lot of misinformation and misunderstanding regarding the amendment.

“It changes nothing for women seeking a termination in Vermont.  It changes nothing for medical personnel involved nor the medical personnel who wish not to be involved in terminations," said Till. "Madame Speaker abortion restrictions are political tools designed to make abortion harder to access. They are not designed to increase safety nor to improve the medical standards of care. The results of legislatures restricting access to reproductive rights is an overall increase in maternal mortality. That is why we need this constitutional amendment.”

Northfield Republican Anne Donahue said individuals already control their reproductive choices before conception.

“Although abortion is never directly referenced in the language we know that in current legislative intent it’s the core impetus for this proposal.  When a wanted pregnancy ends in a miscarriage we say she lost her baby. No one says she lost her embryo or her fetus. Because it was wanted and that defines its humanity as a baby." Donahue asserted, "Individuals inherently do control their reproductive decisions but once that biological reproduction has already occurred because conception has occurred that choice has been made.”

The amendment would be the first of its kind in the nation.