Around New England

Vermont Moving Toward Becoming First State in the Country To Protect Abortion In State Constitution

April 11, 2021

A proposed constitutional amendment that would enshrine a right to abortion in the Vermont Constitution is one step closer to taking effect, now that the Vermont Senate has approved it a second time.

The proposed amendment is on track to go to voters in the state in the November 2022 general election if the Vermont House of Representatives approves it a second time, as is expected.

The proposed amendment (known as Proposal 5) doesn’t mention the word “abortion,” but it refers to it obliquely. It states:

 

That the people are guaranteed the liberty and dignity to determine their own life’s course. The right to personal reproductive autonomy is central to the liberty protected by this Constitution and shall not be denied or infringed unless justified by a compelling State interest achieved by the least restrictive means.

 

The Vermont Senate voted 26-4 in favor of the abortion amendment on Friday, April 9, according to VTDigger.

Three Republicans and one Democrat voted no.

The 30-member Vermont Senate consists of 18 Democrats who identify only with the Democratic Party; four Democrats who also identify with the yet-further-left Progressive Party; two Progressive Party members who also caucus with the Democrats; and six Republicans. The effect is a 24-6 majority for the Democratic Party caucus, or a four-to-one majority.

The 150-member Vermont House of Representatives consists of 90 Democrats who identify only with the Democratic Party; 2 Democrats who also identify with the yet-further-left Progressive Party; 6 Progressives who caucus with the Democrats; 1 Progressive who identifies only as a Progressive; 5 independents; and 46 Republicans. The effect is a 98-46 advantage for the Democratic Party caucus, or a more-than-two-to-one-majority.

Supporters of the abortion amendment have framed it as a response to the possibility that the U.S. Supreme Court will overturn Roe v. Wade and return abortion policy to the states, where it was before the 1973 court decision.

In 2019, the state legislature passed sweeping legislation removing virtually all restrictions on abortion. Governor Phil Scott, a Republican, signed the abortion bill into law June 10, 2019.

Vermont House Bill 57 (now known as Vermont Act 47) prohibits any restrictions on abortion in the state. The law does not limit abortions according to how far along a pregnancy is or require parental consent for minors.

The abortion statute states in part:

 

A public entity shall not:

(1) deprive a consenting individual of the choice of terminating the individual’s pregnancy;

(2) interfere with or restrict, in the regulation or provision of benefits, facilities, services, or information, the choice of a consenting individual to terminate the individual’s pregnancy;

(3) prohibit a health care provider, acting within the scope of the health care provider’s license, from terminating or assisting in the termination of a patient’s pregnancy; or

(4) interfere with or restrict, in the regulation or provision of benefits, facilities, services, or information, the choice of a health care provider acting within the scope of the health care provider’s license to terminate or assist in the termination of a patient’s pregnancy.

 

In May 2019, VTDigger described the all-nine-months-no-restrictions abortion bill as going “further toward protecting abortion than any existing state laws in the country.”

Vermont would become the first state in the country to enshrine protection for abortion in its constitution if voters approve the amendment in November 2022.

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