With Roe v. Wade in Limbo, Vt. Voters to Decide Reproductive Liberty Amendment

The Vermont Constitution could be changed this fall, in a statewide vote on reproductive healthcare

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A leaked Supreme Court document obtained by Politico, which indicates Roe v. Wade could be overturned, has advocates for reproductive healthcare in Vermont looking to November. The state could become a national stand-out, if voters choose to amend the Vermont Constitution to enshrine access to abortions and other reproductive services.

The draft document is not final, and does not reflect the court’s ultimate opinion, according to the Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court, John Roberts.

Vermont already has a law protecting abortion rights, but voters could go further this fall — deciding whether to codify in the Vermont Constitution everyone’s right to decide when to use birth control, start a family, or end a pregnancy.

“We think Vermonters should have the peace of mind to know that this right is protected in our state,” said Lucy Leriche of the advocacy group Vermont for Reproductive Liberty.

Leriche told NECN & NBC10 Boston she views the leaked Supreme Court document as giving added urgency to November’s constitutional amendment question, which is also known as Proposition 5.

“We know that Vermonters support this right and we believe that putting it in the constitution is the best way to protect it long-term,” Leriche said.

As reaction to the draft Supreme Court decision that would overturn Roe v. Wade ripples across America, Maine Republican Sen. Susan Collins is finding herself taking blame from activists who support allowing abortions.

Opponents are critical of the proposal’s wording — labeling its term “personal reproductive autonomy” as too vague.

“It’s a constitutional amendment — the language should be clear,” argued Mary Hahn Beerworth of the Vermont Right to Life Committee. “If they wanted to do that, they would use the word ‘woman’ and they would use the word ‘abortion.’ What will the courts decide ‘personal reproductive autonomy’ means in the state of Vermont?”

Proponents insist that language reflects Supreme Court precedent and also covers other rights like access to contraception, Leriche noted.

Leaders from across the political aisle in Vermont reacted to the draft Supreme Court ruling indicating Roe v. Wade could be overturned, leaving it up to each state to decide whether abortions are legal, and under what circumstances.

“This would be an enormous step backwards and damage civil rights,” Gov. Phil Scott, R-Vermont, said of a rollback at the national level. “The fundamental rights and liberties of all women will be defended, protected, and preserved here in Vermont.”

Sen. Kesha Ram Hinsdale, D-Chittenden County, said she is profoundly worried about people in states that would enact bans.

“This is a full-out war on women,” Ram Hinsdale said of bans and trigger laws in states that would happen if Roe v. Wade is overturned.

President Joe Biden spoke Tuesday after a leaked Supreme Court draft opinion threatening to overturn Roe v. Wade was published by Politico late Monday. “If the rationale of the decision as released were to be sustained, a whole range of rights are in question… it goes far beyond the concern of whether or not there is the right to choose.”

The state senator has been open about how she had an abortion in Washington, D.C. when she was a college student

“To think that women who are in their early 20s, as I was then, now may not be able to seek that care is tragic to think about,” Ram Hinsdale said in an interview Tuesday with NECN & NBC10 Boston. “And at the same time, I know as a woman of color, that a lot of women already weren’t able to access the all-important ability to get an abortion.”

Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, the seniormost member of the U.S. Senate, wrote Tuesday that he was “deeply concerned and saddened” at the thought the landmark ruling of Roe v. Wade could be overturned.

“If this is the direction in which this Supreme Court is headed, it would do irreparable damage to whatever remaining trust Americans have in our judiciary as an independent, apolitical branch of our government,” Sen. Leahy wrote in a statement. “Overturning Roe v. Wade thus would not only endanger the enshrined rights of millions of Americans, but endanger our constitutional system of government itself. And who knows where this ungrounded judicial activism would end?”

In a tweet, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, called for urgent action in Congress to codify Roe v. Wade.

Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vermont, said in a written statement the possible overturning of Roe v. Wade would be “the greatest infringement of freedom for women in generations.”

Welch also stressed the Supreme Court decision is not final, and that abortion remains legal today — as he said it should stay.

Sen. Becca Balint, D-Windham County, the most powerful member of the Vermont Senate, made the same call to Congress in a tweet Monday night commenting on the Politico article on the Supreme Court document it obtained.

“I won’t mince words: women will die as a direct result of this decision,” Balint warned in her tweet.

Lt. Gov. Molly Gray, D-Vermont, also weighed in on the report from Politico.

“Should the Supreme Court’s opinion seeking to overturn Roe v. Wade be accurate, we are in the fight of our lives across Vermont and this country,” Gray said in a written statement. “Our work here in Vermont to enshrine reproductive liberty as a fundamental right in our Vermont Constitution through Proposition 5 also takes on even greater urgency.”

Scott also said overturning Roe could create a mistrust in government, possibly leaving some Americans wondering what other rights could be taken away. He cited same-sex marriage as one right some may worry about.

In a draft Supreme Court opinion on Roe v. Wade, Justice Samuel Alito argues that rights need to be "deeply rooted in the nation's history and tradition" to be protected. "If that's their approach, then the right to contraception might equally be seen as 'not deeply rooted in our nation's history and tradition,'" says Caroline Mala Corbin, a University of Miami law professor.
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