MONTPELIER – Abortion-rights advocates gathered outside the State House Tuesday evening to join the national fight against tough new laws in some states aimed at challenging the landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision, Roe v. Wade, that established a woman’s legal right to an abortion.
About 300 people gathered to hear from more than half dozen speakers who each urged action to mobilize against efforts to overturn the 1973 landmark decision, following the recent appointment of Justice Brett Cavanaugh, giving the Supreme Court a conservative majority.
Critics have said recent decisions by Alabama to effectively ban abortion altogether and other bills in Ohio, Louisiana and Missouri to prevent abortions as soon as a baby’s heartbeat is detected in the early stages of pregnancy are likely to lead to a challenge of Roe v. Wade.
In Vermont, supporters of abortion rights have hailed Republican Gov. Phil Scott for being pro choice and not standing in the way of House bill H.57, which seeks to guarantee a woman’s right to an abortion in the Vermont Constitution.
That was reiterated Tuesday evening.
“The Governor is pro choice, and as he has emphasized throughout this discussion, he understands the calls to codify choice protections in some way,” said spokeswoman Rebecca Kelley in an email Tuesday. “Given these considerations and the strong support for H.57 in the Legislature, he’s said he will not veto the bill — it will become law. I’d also note that we have not yet received the bill from the Legislature at this time.”
The Legislature also approved a constitutional amendment to protect the reproductive rights of women. If approved by the legislature next year, as well as by voters, Vermont would make history by becoming the first state to do so.
On Tuesday, abortion-rights advocates were both focused on supporting Vermont’s lead on abortion protections and fighting for the same rights in other states nationwide.
Paige Feeser, the public affairs organizer for Planned Parenthood Vermont Action Fund, said Tuesday’s event was one of 350 around the nation and five in Vermont to fight “extremists who have passed 16 abortion bans in the last five months.”
“This is not just an attack on the people in Missouri or Georgia or Alabama, this is an attack on all of us,” Feeser said. “This is an attack on everyone who might or can get pregnant.”
Meagan Gallagher, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, noted: “Last week, the governor of Alabama signed a law that would sentence doctors up to 99 years in jail for performing abortions. And then, across this country, people said, ‘Enough.’”
Gallagher said one in four women in the nation will have an abortion in their lifetime. Banning abortion wouldn’t stop abortion, she said. It would stop safe abortion and impact low-income and people of color.
“Abortion is health care, and health care is a human right,” she said, and hailed Vermont’s H.57, adding, “From Vermont, we are sending a particularly powerful message.”
Other speakers included Rev. Joan Javier-Duval of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Montpelier, who said she was a mother who had also had to have a miscarriage removed. Even as a church minister, she said she recognized women’s rights to reproductive freedom.
She also had criticism for conservatives who refused to compromise on reproductive rights.
“In my view, it is bad theology to claim a concern for the sanctity of life on the one hand while ignoring children dying at the border, trans women murdered on the streets, the continued defunding of public education, and fossil-fuel-induced ecological catastrophe on the other,” she said.
Other women spoke of their own agonies of having to seek abortion, because they were too young to be parents or because of medical complications and expressed relief that safe abortion was available.
“I never want a politician at my bedside when I make fiercely personal health care decisions,” said Kelsey Crelin, who hailed the passing of H.57. “I’m already proud to live in Vermont and I will be even prouder when this bill becomes law.”
The social justice partners involved in Tuesday’s rally included: the American Civil Liberties Union of Vermont; Women’s March Vermont; #VOTEPROCHOICE; the Rutland chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People; Black Lives Matter of Greater Burlington; Vermont Network Against Domestic and Sexual Violence; Pride Center of Vermont; and the Peace and Justice Center in Burlington.