After Texas abortion ban, Vermont pro-choice groups push for constitutional protection

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BURLINGTON, Vt. – Sen. Bernie Sanders and Rep. Peter Welch met with a variety of advocates working to strike down anti-abortion laws in Texas and ensure those rights are protected in Vermont.

The roundtable event included representatives from Planned Parenthood of Vermont, the ACLU of Vermont, the Vermont Attorney General’s Office and the Vermont Legislature.

Following the recent Supreme Court decision that allowed the nation’s most restrictive abortion laws to take effect in Texas, some Vermont lawmakers believe the ongoing effort to amend the Vermont Constitution is the most significant step they can take to guarantee reproductive rights in the Green Mountain State.

“Currently, we have that fundamental right in this state, and we’ve had it for nearly 50 years as a result of Roe v. Wade,” said Sen. Ginny Lyons. “But it’s only a right as a result of court cases.”

Prop. 5, which was first introduced by Rep. Ann Pugh in January 2019, would guarantee reproductive rights regardless of any future Supreme Court decisions. It’s a lengthy process to amend the Vermont Constitution, but it’s expected the House will give its final approval early next year, and voters could weigh in as early as November 2022.

“Vermont’s policy has long recognized that decisions related to reproductive health and abortion are deeply personal and private, and they’re best left to the individual and their healthcare provider,” Rep. Pugh said. “Prop. 5 keeps things the way they are now, and the way they’ve been for half a century. I believe the voters of Vermont will agree.”

As Senator Sanders and Congressman Welch return to Washington, their focus will be on a similar effort at the federal level. The ‘Women’s Health Protection Act’ would guarantee reproductive freedom nationwide. Both of Vermont’s representatives spoke about the importance of the legislation given the situation in Texas.

“This is not only an attack on women’s rights, not only an attack on human rights, what it is is another effort to try and divide us up,” Sanders said.

“I don’t think anyone in Vermont in their wildest dreams would think Texas would pass such an outrageous and unconstitutional law,” Welch said.

We also spoke with Falko Schilling, Advocacy Director for the ACLU of Vermont.

“This is a case we’re challenging in court, we shouldn’t have to be, this is clearly unconstitutional and should be struck down, and it’s deeply, deeply troubling to see that the Supreme Court has let this law stand as long as it has, because it’s had devastating impacts on the people who live in Texas.”

Other speakers Monday included Melinda Moulton, for whom the developments in Texas bring back the pain of losing her mother nearly 60 years ago. More than 10 years before Roe v. Wade, Moulton said her mother went to a ‘secret hospital,’ suffered complications from a procedure, and died five months later. It was three days before Christmas.

“Women cannot realize full equality if we are not allowed control over our own bodies,” Moulton said. “Reproductive freedom for women is a human right, and most Vermonters agree. Passing Prop. 5 is an extremely crucial step to ensure we never, ever allow anyone to force us to return to the days where women like my mother must endure humiliation and potentially life-threatening procedures that often cost them their lives.”

Rep. Welch said the Women’s Health Protection Act should be up for a vote in the House this week, and believes it will pass. Senator Sanders said it’s future in the Senate is less clear – some Democrats are opposed, while some Republicans have voiced support.

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