Vermont House, Senate approve separate abortion measures

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Vermont Statehouse Ice Rink

Both chambers of the Vermont Legislature approved separate pieces of legislation Tuesday to protect a woman’s access to abortion services.

The House voted for a proposed constitutional amendment, first passed by the Senate, that would enshrine a woman’s right to an abortion in the state’s Constitution. About two hours later, the Senate approved a bill, first passed in the House, that would create a state law guaranteeing a woman’s right to an abortion.

Proponents say the two measures are needed because Vermont has no underlying law guaranteeing access to an abortion. The state has relied on the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision by the U.S. Supreme Court that legalized abortion nationwide, but some now worry that access could be jeopardized by the changing makeup of the high court.

Both measures passed overwhelming: The constitutional amendment was approved by a vote of 106 to 38 in the House. The measure in the Senate passed by a vote of 24 to 6.

Democratic Sen. Ginny Lyons said many laws across the country have been passed by states hoping they could be the legal vehicle that could overturn Roe v. Wade. Any one of them could be successful, she said.

“We cannot afford to wait another year, or two or three to place Vermont’s 45-year record of reproductive rights into statue,” she said.

The proposed law passed by the Senate differs from the version first approved in the House, so the two versions will need to be reconciled. The proposed constitutional amendment has to be approved again by the Legislature elected in 2020 and then, if approved a second time, be approved by voters in a statewide referendum that would be held in 2022.

Supporters say the proposed law would provide immediate protections for women seeking abortions while the longer-term amendment proposal would make abortion access a fundamental right in Vermont.

Republican Sen. Joe Benning, who voted for the abortion amendment, said he could not vote for the bill before the Senate on Tuesday because it did not allow for the regulation of abortions performed late in pregnancy.

“That bothers me,” he said.

The proponents say few abortions are performed late in pregnancy in Vermont.

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