Voters in Vermont by a wide margin approved a constitutional amendment to protect reproductive rights in the state, including abortion.
In 2019, the Democratic-controlled Vermont Legislature passed a law guaranteeing abortion rights, and the state began the process of amending the constitution. The proposal had to be passed by two consecutively elected legislatures. The final step was the statewide referendum.
“The right to reproductive liberty is central to the exercise of personal autonomy and involves decisions people should be able to make free from compulsion of the State,” the amendment states. “Enshrining this right in the Constitution is critical to ensuring equal protection and treatment under the law and upholding the right of all people to health, dignity, independence, and freedom.”
Republican Gov. Phil Scott gave formal notice in July that state voters would be casting ballots on a measure on Election Day.
“In Vermont, we solidified the right to choose in law, and now Vermonters have the opportunity to further protect that right in our constitution,” Scott said in a statement at the time. “It is more important than ever to make sure the women in our state have the right to make their own decisions about their health, bodies, and their futures.”
The constitutional amendment does not contain the word “abortion.”
Supporters say that’s because it’s intended to authorize not only abortion but guarantee reproductive rights such as the right to get pregnant or have access to birth control.
“The proposal is designed to prohibit government interference from people’s personal reproductive health care decisions,” said Lucy Leriche of Planned Parenthood of Northern New England. “So it protects a person’s right to decide with their doctor and their family whether or not to use birth control; whether or not to become sterilized; and whether or not to get pregnant and carry a pregnancy to term; and whether or not access abortion care.”
Opponents said the wording is vague and could have unintended consequences. Among concerns that critics raised is that it would protect late-term abortions, which are very rare.
“By putting our existing law into the Constitution, given that we have never regulated viable infant abortions in any way, it would permanently lock us out of regulating that and there’s some significant concerns about that,” said Republican Rep. Anne Donahue.
Mary Hahn Beerworth, executive director of Vermont Right to Life Committee, said the organization encouraged lawmakers to be more specific about the language.
“If they’re going to say it’s about abortion then it should say abortion. And it doesn’t and it doesn’t say woman,” she said.
But Rep. Ann Pugh, a Democrat, said the amendment’s language is clear, and is based on “a bundle of rights” that came from U.S. Supreme Court cases before and after Roe v Wade.
“It will not change, it will not expand anything about the way abortion has been safely provided in Vermont since the early 1970s,” Pugh said. “These are medical decisions which are guided by the individual, their healthcare provider and by strict medical ethics.”