Around New England

Vermont Senate Passes Proposed State Constitutional Amendment Protecting Legal Abortion

April 4, 2019

The Vermont Senate has passed a proposed amendment to the state’s constitution that would enshrine legal abortion as defined by the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade.

Senators approved the measure 28-2 at 2:58 p.m. Thursday, April 4, well more than the two-thirds majority needed.

The debate and vote were broadcast live Thursday afternoon by Vermont Public Radio.

Two Republicans from Rutland Town, state Senator Brian Collamore and state Senator James McNeil, were the only senators to vote no.

If a simple majority of the Vermont House of Representatives passes the amendment, it will go to the next biannual session of the legislature, in 2021-2022. If both chambers pass it during that session, it will go to Vermont voters in the November 2022 general election.

The proposed amendment doesn’t use the word “abortion,” but refers to it obliquely:

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.

Supporters of the amendment are trying to make it as hard as possible to make abortion illegal or significantly restricted in Vermont, in case the U.S. Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade and enables states to prohibit it or restrict it.

Democrats control the Vermont Senate over Republicans, 22 to 6, with 2 Progressives. (Four Democrats also caucus with the Progressive Party, while the two Progressives caucus with the Democrats.)

Democrats control the Vermont House of Representatives over Republicans, 83-53, with 6 Progressives and 6 independents.

Pro-life activists in Vermont didn’t try hard to flip state senators, concluding it was a lost cause.

“We don’t expect any robust discussion in the Senate. I think we have to let this ship sail,” said Mary Beerworth, executive director of the Vermont Right to Life Committee, before the vote, according to Seven Days.

The proposed constitutional amendment differs from another bill under consideration in the Vermont General Assembly that would remove virtually all restrictions on abortion. That bill got a more-than-two-thirds majority of support in the Vermont House in February but has not been voted on by the Vermont Senate.