Vermont House hears from the public on abortion-rights amendment

Published: 1/28/2022 5:21:23 AM
Modified: 1/28/2022 5:20:11 AM

MONTPELIER — A committee of the Vermont House on Wednesday evening took testimony from the public on Proposal 5, an amendment to the state constitution that would protect the right to abortion.

About 70 people provided two minutes of testimony apiece during the hearing, which took place at the Statehouse but included remote participants. Roughly two-thirds of them spoke in favor of Prop 5, also known as the Reproductive Liberty Amendment.

Those speaking in support ranged from obstetricians and registered nurses to religious leaders and professors.

Samantha Hills, who said she moved to Springfield, Vt., from Arizona in 2018, told members of the House Committee on Human Services that Vermont’s support for reproductive rights contributed to her decision to move to the state. Hills has a chromosome abnormality that increases her risk of miscarriage, and she said Arizona made it difficult for her to terminate a pregnancy if it was not viable.

Many older Vermont women recalled an era before abortions were legal when the procedures posed a severe risk.

“Back-alley abortions and coat hanger abortions were a real thing that killed people I knew growing up,” said Mary Gerisch, of Bennington, Vt.

States such as Mississippi and Texas have recently passed some of the most restrictive abortion laws since the U.S. Supreme Court protected the right to abortion in 1973 with its decision in Roe v. Wade.

If Prop 5 passes, Vermont would become the first state to guarantee the right to abortion and contraception in its state constitution. It already protects those rights in state law.

The proposed amendment has already been put through its paces. In keeping with Vermont’s rigorous constitutional amendment process, it was approved by the Senate and House in 2019 and then again by the Senate in 2021. After another vote on the House floor, it would next move to November’s general election ballot, requiring the approval of a majority of voters.

Opponents of Prop 5 on Wednesday stressed what they called its vague wording, its restriction of parental control over their children’s reproductive rights and what they characterized as its redundant nature, given existing protections in state law and Roe.

“Proposal 5 is very broadly worded,” said Carrie Handy, a member of the Vermont Family Alliance. “Hypothetically, a minor child could be legally entitled to obtain anything from an abortion to puberty blocking hormones to gender change surgery without parental consent, involvement or even notification.”

Lynne Caulfield, a registered nurse who lives in Monkton, Vt., chastised what she referred to as the drafters’ disregard for the feelings of medical providers.

“Proposal 5 assaults the conscience of health care workers,” she said.

The youngest speakers generally supported the amendment. Among them was Corrine Owens, a student at Mount Mansfield Union High School in Jericho, Vt.

“As soon as a minor is mature enough to consent to sex, they are mature enough to know what they want from it,” she said. “They are mature enough to deserve reproductive liberty.”

Rep. Ann Pugh, D-South Burlington, who chairs the House committee, concluded the hearing by reminding listeners that if the House approved Prop 5, it would end up on the ballot.

“It is your decision, the decision of the voters of Vermont,” she said.

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