MONTPELIER — The unrestricted right of Vermont’s women to access abortion services was secured Monday evening with the stroke of Gov. Phil Scott’s pen.
“Currently, Vermont does not restrict the right to abortion,” the bill reads. “The General Assembly intends this act to safeguard the existing rights to access reproductive health services in Vermont by ensuring those rights are not denied, restricted or infringed by a government entity. ... The State of Vermont recognizes the fundamental right of every individual who becomes pregnant to choose to carry a pregnancy to term, to give birth to a child or to have an abortion.”
“Like many Vermonters, I have consistently supported a woman’s right to choose, which is why today I signed H.57 into law,” Scott said in a statement. “This legislation affirms what is already allowable in Vermont — protecting reproductive rights and ensuring those decisions remain between a woman and her health care provider.”
“Given what’s happening at a national level, I think there’s a lot of astonishment and outrage at the lengths the opposition will go to take away rights of people who can get pregnant,” said Lucy Leriche, vice president of public policy for Planned Parenthood in Vermont. “What we have seen is an incredible outpouring of support from advocacy organizations, Vermonters and the Legislature.”
The Vermont Right to Life Committee released a statement accusing Scott of harming Vermont’s women and girls by signing the “anti-life” bill.
“H.57 goes beyond Roe v. Wade and may well be the most radical anti-life law in the nation,” Sharon Toborg, policy analyst for Vermont Right to Life, said in the statement.
Mary Beerworth, executive director of the Vermont Right to Life committee, maintained the bill would enable abortion at any stage in a pregnancy. Sen. Brian Collamore, R-Rutland said he shared those concerns when he voted against H.57.
“There is no provision for restricting the time limit on abortion — the way it’s written, a woman could be in her ninth month, she could still have an abortion,” Collamore said.
But Leriche said the frequency of late-term abortions claimed by some was misinformation.
“Terminations late in pregnancy are very rare, less than 1% — pregnancies that are wanted and are tragic anomalies,” Leriche said.
According to the Vermont Medical Society, in 2016, 98.9% of abortions happened at 20 weeks of gestation or earlier, and almost 70% of those terminations were at less than nine weeks. Terminations 21 weeks or later were listed as making up 1% of terminations.
“’Late-term’ abortion is a social construct introduced to create an image of an elective abortion that happens closer to 8-9 months, which does not happen and is not a term that is used medically,” according to a statement released by the Vermont Medical Society. “There are no abortion services available for patients seeking termination past 22 weeks in Vermont, except in very rare cases where there are significant threats to maternal or fetal health.”
Beerworth warned that clinics allowed to operate “unregulated” opens the door for illegal clinics to open. She cited the case of Kermit Gosnell, who operated an illegal practice in Philadelphia and was charged with eight counts of murder after his practice was raided in 2010.
“Kermit Gosnell ran a criminal enterprise, not a health care facility,” Leriche said. “The notion that these criminals are going to come in and set up shop here in Vermont, no regulations would allow for that to happen. ... Every health care provider has a medical license. This allegation that abortion health care centers aren’t regulated is false.
Abortion is health care, Leriche said, and remains one of the safest health care procedures that exist conducted by a trained medical professional, with less than 1% resulting in complications.
Collamore said he was opposed to the lack of parental consent required for someone underage to access abortion care.
“A girl could be as young as 13 or 14 years old ... and there’s no parental notification,” Collamore said.
Leriche said requiring parental consent could put the life of the pregnant person in danger if they refused to allow the termination and forced the child to carry the pregnancy to term.
“We support, very strongly, this idea that if this person is old enough to get pregnant, they’re old enough to decide what they want to do with their body,” Leriche said.
“Parents need to find out what’s happening with their daughter,” Beerworth said. “There is never a moment when a woman is under so much pressure.”
But rather than seeking abortion, Beerworth said more efforts ought to be allocated to aiding a pregnant person in the event of an unplanned pregnancy.
“Why aren’t colleges making it easier for women to have children? We stepped into this discussion and felt this was an opportunity to improve the services to women,” Beerworth said.
An opinion, Leriche said, that dissolved the notion of choice.
“(It) fundamentally disregards what the patient wants for herself and whether she wants to be pregnant and wants to be a parent,” Leriche said.
Contrary to Beerworth’s claims that abortion rates are increasing, Vermont Department of Health Communications Officer Ben Truman confirmed that 1,298 abortions were performed in the state in 2016, falling to 1,203 in 2017.
If nothing else, Beerworth said the law would only serve to strengthen a “business” that she alleged financially profited from providing abortion care and funneled money to the state government.
“We refer to them as the fourth branch of government in Vermont,” Beerworth said. “They have an incredible ability to affect an election. ... I think (Scott) is afraid to go against them.”
Leriche called the notion of abortion care providers making a profit “offensive.”
“We have a 501c4 and an independent expenditure pack,” Leriche said. “... Abortion services are probably one of the smallest pieces of what we do. Six percent of our patients come for abortion. The vast majority are for contraception services.”
In its statement, the Vermont Medical Society thanked Scott signing the bill into law.
“We thank the thousands of Vermonters who spoke out in support of H.57, the countless individuals who came forward to share their personal stories, all of the legislators who worked to see this critical legislation through, and Gov. Scott for signing it into law,” said James Duff Lyall, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Vermont. “Thanks to them, the people of this state will continue to have the freedom to define their own path without government interference or intrusion into their private decisions.”
Going forward, Jessa Barnard, executive director of the Vermont Medical Society, said the proposed restriction of Title X funding — federal grant money for reproductive health care facilities — is being fought by a coalition of states around the nation in an effort to keep affordable health care available.
“Title X federal funding for contraceptive care and screenings does not fund abortions,” Barnard said. “It could affect Vermont reproductive services for STI screenings, breast cancer screenings, cervical cancer screenings.”
A year after he signed the most sweeping gun legislation in Vermont’s history, Gov. Phil Scott decided not to take it a step further.
The governor on Monday vetoed S.169, a bill introduced by the Senate Judiciary Committee that would have created a 24-hour waiting period for handgun purchases.
The bill was frequently touted as a suicide-prevention measure. While gun control organizations like Giffords’ — the national group started by former congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords — pointed at studies broadly linking tighter gun control laws to decreases in suicide, the Vermont Federation of Sportsmen’s Clubs (VFSC) pointed out that only 6% of suicides in Vermont involve guns, and almost all of those guns had been owned for more than 24 hours.
Even so, VFSC president Chris Bradley said the organization was involved in a project distributing literature to gun-shop owners on how to spot and deal with customers at risk of suicide.
“Gun-shop owners don’t want to sell to people who are going to kill themselves,” he said on Tuesday. “Owners don’t want that on their conscience.”
Ultimately, Bradley said, the bill would have violated the rights of Vermont gun-buyers to no appreciable benefit.
“I believe it is well-intentioned,” he said. “I believe it is by people who are wishfully thinking this is a step in the right direction.”
Sen. Brian Collamore, R-Rutland County, who voted against the bill, said he might have supported it if he’d been convinced it would have made a difference with suicides, but that he saw no such evidence.
“I don’t know how you do that,” he said. “I voted against S.55 last year, too. I feel, have felt for a while, that responsible Vermonters have a right to buy guns, have guns. ... I guess in the end, I’m a Second Amendment advocate. I’ve voted that way, and that’s the way I feel.”
The governor’s letter notifying the Legislature of the veto noted the gun-control measure he approved last year.
“With these measures in place, we must now prioritize strategies that address the underlying causes of violence and suicide,” Scott wrote. “I do not believe S.169 addresses these areas. Moving forward, I ask the Legislature to work with me to strengthen our mental health system, reduce adverse childhood experiences, combat addiction and provide every Vermonter with hope and economic opportunity.”
House Speaker Mitzi Johnson said the Legislature was doing all that, noting that they sent the governor a budget with increased mental health funding that he initially vetoed before allowing it to take effect without his signature. She said if the governor wishes to spend more still on mental health, the Legislature will oblige.
“We’ve been on that path, and I’m happy to continue on that path,” she said.
Johnson said an override was unlikely, given that numerous House Democrats broke ranks and the bill passed by a vote of 82-58.
“We’ll have some conversations, but it wasn’t real close to the 100 to begin with,” she said. “I think we’ll continue to have conversations on how to reduce suicides.”
Lily and Isabella Turner-Burrell, students in the Public Safety and Criminal Justice program at Stafford Technical Center, watched carefully Tuesday afternoon as firefighter David Webinski tied a figure-eight knot behind the Rutland City Fire Station. The Turner-Burrell twins, along with five of their classmates, have spent the past two days at the station learning practical skills that firefighters use on the job.
Lily, who along with her sister just graduated from West Rutland High School, said her interest in the Public Safety program stems from her desire to help people.
“I have always loved helping people, and ever since I was young I’ve wanted to do something with the law enforcement and health careers,” she said.
The fire station was the last stop in a busy year during which students visited the Vermont Air National Guard, participated in the statewide SkillsUSA competition, earned four FEMA certifications and received three community college course credits.
Also, students had the chance to explore a variety of career options from entry-level public service jobs to professional opportunities they might pursue after college.
Rodney Kenyon, a firefighter at the station and an alumnus of Stafford Technical Center’s Health Careers Program, said he hopes that students will go on to pursue careers in firefighting.
“I want to show these kids, ‘Hey, this is what fire departments can do, this could be a career for you in the future, come see us, hang out with us, and if you like it, here’s how you can come do it,’” he said.
Kenyon serves on the Public Safety program’s advisory board, and said he enjoys helping train students from his alma mater.
“That’s why I got into the service in the first place — to help out,” he said.
Rutland City Fire Chief James Larsen said in the long term he hopes to recruit students out of the program.
“The recruitment and retention of firefighters in Vermont is an issue that a lot of departments are facing right now,” he said. “Stafford has great success with many other career fields out of that facility, why can’t firefighting be one of them?”
Debora Perkins, the teacher who has headed the program for the past six years, said that part of her motivation in bringing the students to the station is that in the past the program has graduated more police officers than firefighters.
“We’re hoping to even that out and get more students interested in firefighting,” she said. “We’re hoping that this might help spark an interest in students. There are so many volunteer departments, and everyone can do something.”
While Lily and Isabella are not currently planning to go into firefighting, they do credit the Public Safety program with leading them to their current shared career goal: to become forensic medical examiners.
“At the beginning of this year, I was very unsure what I wanted to do,” Lily said. “Ms. Perkins has helped us tremendously in deciding our dream goals in life and has helped us figure out the steps to take along our path.”
The sisters will attend Curry College in Massachusetts next year to continue their training, and Bella said she has learned leadership skills through the Public Safety program that will help her during her next step.
“I’ve definitely learned how to communicate,” she said. “Before this year, I’d actually never taught anyone and almost every single year I’ve taught someone something new.”
“We’ve really gotten a feel for what being a leader and being more responsible, being a helpful person, is like,” she said, adding that this has made her want to go into public service even more.
Bella added that she hopes to use some of the other skills she has learned this year to serve her community.
“I definitely know that I want to work with the paramedics and the ambulance,” she said. “I definitely know that I want to do volunteer work for the fire department sometime in the future. This has helped me solidify my interest in that.”
About $400,000 is being awarded to land conservation efforts in Stowe and Mount Holly, with a few million more being distributed to affordable housing projects across the state.
The Vermont Housing & Conservation Board (VHCB) announced Tuesday the awarding of $6,656,970 in grants to organizations in Addison, Orleans, Lamoille, Windham, Rutland and Chittenden counties.
In Mount Holly, VHCB awarded $200,000 to a partnership between the Vermont Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation, Vermont Land Trust and Mount Holly Conservation Trust to purchase 340 acres of land that will link Okemo State Forest to the Green Mountain National Forest. The land is off Route 155, according to a VHCB statement.
Gus Seelig, executive director of VHCB, said in an interview Tuesday these awards are funded through a mix of state and federal money. He said about two years ago, the state put $37 million towards affordable housing, which is raised through selling bonds, so some of that money is being used in these grants. He said for every $1 awarded for land conservation, about $1.50 is being used for affordable housing.
The federal funding sources are the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, and the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service.
When it comes to who gets a grant, Seelig said a number of criteria are considered. With regards to land conservation, VHCB likes to conserve farmland and areas that are ecologically important or have recreational opportunities.
In Stowe, $200,000 was awarded to the Stowe Land Trust to help it acquire 750 acres of forest on the west side of the Worcester Range, which it will then turn over to the Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation. The entire acquisition is for $5.5 million. The purchase will expand the 14,000-acre C.C. Putnam State Forest.
Seelig said the Stowe purchase will also allow the public to freely access that tract of land, as it’s been closed off for several years.
Both the Mount Holly and Stowe areas host Vermont Association of Snow Traveler (VAST) trails, Class 4 roads and other trails, according to VHCB.
Seelig said watershed protection is also a factor in land conservation.
Between Stowe, Mount Holly and the other land conservation awards, 5,650 acres of “natural areas” and public recreational lands are being conserved, along with 617 acres of farmland.
Other land grant awards included:
— A $750,000 award to The Nature Conservancy to protect 3,469 acres of land near Glebe Mountain. The area is home to bears and several species of rare plants. The project will also open the area up to recreation, such as hunting, fishing, kayaking, hiking, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. It will also protect the Cobb Brook, which feeds the West River.
— Four farms across Addison, Orleans and Chittenden counties will be conserved through the Vermont Land Trust. VHCB supplied $563,500, while the federal Natural Resources Conservation Service is contributing $616,500, according to VHCB.
In St. Johnsbury, funds are being allocated to New Avenue Apartments, formerly known as Depot Square. According to VCHB, the project involves renovation work that will result in 39 “affordable rentals, remedying health and safety code issues, increasing energy efficiency and preserving and expanding rental assistance for low-income Vermonters.”
The project is a public-private partnership aimed at revitalizing St. Johnsbury’s downtown. VHCB will distribute $2,237,000 in Housing Revenue Bond Funds and $843,000 in National Housing Trust funds to the project. All told, it’s a $12 million project.
In Newport, Rural Edge is rehabilitating Governor Prouty Apartments. The $3.2 million project focuses on 12 units on the second floor. VHCB is facilitating awards of $355,226 in state funds and $375,000 from the federal HOME funding. The project also has $1.3 million from USDA Rural Development.
In Vergennes, VHCB has awarded $230,744 in HOME program funding to Housing Vermont and the Addison County Community Trust to build 24 apartments.
In Brattleboro, Groundworks Collaborative plans to build a 34-bed day shelter, which in the winter will convert to a night shelter. VHCB has awarded the project $325,000. It has funding from some other sources, but the $3.1 million project needs to raise another $1.61 million, according to the VHCB release.
“He always believed the world would be right in the end, and he based that hope on the young people.”
Ryan Cooper, of Massachusetts, whose friendship with diarist Anne Frank’s father, Otto Frank, produced dozens of letters and several face-to-face meetings. The correspondence will be donated to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington
Artist in residence, photographer Adeline Praud, of Nantes, France, invites residents to the new Opera House digs of 77ART to pose for photos she is putting together celebrating families, new-fangled and traditional. A3
Bedrock of Fly Fishing. Film screening with whiskey tasting and a silent auction in support of the Moon Brook trout habitat restoration project. $15, 6 p.m. Paramount Theater, 30 Center St., Rutland, firstname.lastname@example.org.