Following the appointments of two conservative justices to the U.S. Supreme Court, Vermont legislators have proposed a bill to protect women’s rights should Roe v. Wade be overturned.
Sen. Philip Baruth, D-Chittenden, brought draft bill S.25 to the table Wednesday, proposing the right for Vermont’s residents to have an abortion.
“We have nothing prohibiting abortion in Vermont,” said Lucy Leriche, vice president for Vermont Public Policy for Planned Parenthood in Northern New England. “All of our rights come down to the constitutional right to abortion in the 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade.”
The bill says that the decision, which recognizes the right to have an abortion under the 14th Amendment to the constitution, “will likely be invalidated” according to “some constitutional scholars.”
“I think most legal experts, most people believe that there is a very high probability that Roe will be challenged and affected,” Leriche said from the State House on Wednesday.
“Before there was a sense that abortion would remain the law of the land,” said Chloe White, policy director at the ACLU of Vermont. “Now with the new makeup of the Supreme Court, that may not be the case anymore. There’s a renewed fervor to enshrine the law within our constitution.”
The bill proposes that the right of an individual to terminate a pregnancy should not be restricted; a health care provider who performs or assists with a legal abortion won’t be subject to liability or penalty; and any law that tries to prevent or restrict someone from asserting her right to have an abortion will be void.
“I’m sure Senator Baruth’s bill is only one of a few that will pop up this year,” White said. “Here in Vermont, we’re very protective of abortion, but there’s not a lot on the books. I think the House and the Senate are going to come together and take initiative on abortion. ... Most certainly there will be huge support for any bill protecting abortion this year.”
Leriche said there are currently 13 cases on abortion and 25 cases on reproductive health that are one step away from the Supreme Court, which means the court will hear and talk about the rights on a fairly regular basis.
Not all attention is positive attention, Leriche said.
“Each of the 13 abortion-related cases could result, if they made it to the Supreme Court, in eroding, overturning or dismantling of reproductive rights,” Leriche said. “It would be all up in the air again. States will have the right to restrict abortion rights.”
None of the cases are from Vermont, Leriche said, and for abortion to be illegal in Vermont, there would have to be a law specifically saying so.
A lot of the cases currently circulating in the lower courts, Leriche said, concern what are called “trap laws,” or arbitrary regulations that health clinics offering abortion services are required to abide by, such as hallway width or other building regulations.
“They’re absurd things that don’t have to do with quality of care,” Leriche said. “But (it provides) an opportunity to take it to the Supreme Court.”
Which means Roe v. Wade could go one of three ways: It could remain as it is, be overturned completely or remain in name and be gutted by a thousand cuts, Leriche said.
Planned Parenthood wouldn’t be affected financially by the overturning of Roe v. Wade, since the organization doesn’t receive federal funding, but it would affect who is able to access abortion health care in their home states, especially if they have limited resources or transportation, Leriche said.
“We do get Medicaid and funding for low-income people and the disabled,” Leriche said. “There could be an impact on our organization (there).”
But that doesn’t mean there isn’t a constant need for more access, White said.
“There are certainly private funds from the state funds that help fund legal abortion,” White said. “I don’t think their phones ever stop ringing.”
White said if the right to a safe and legal abortion is overturned, Vermont and other states that ensure the right can expect to see people traveling from other states to seek help.
“It’s really important that, in Vermont, we codify abortion rights in an affirmative way,” Leriche said. “That we put into our state constitution as a matter of civil right, that women have the right to make decisions about their health care. You’re taking decision making power away from someone about their own life, their health.”