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Dire predictions for Article 22

Abortion foes are attacking the proposed constitutional amendment in ways that are extreme

Nicholas Boke is a freelance writer and international education consultant.

Chester

I figured that if somebody was handing out glossy anti-Article 22 fliers at the Chester Town Office on primary election day, there’d be lots of somebodies handing out glossy anti-Article 22 fliers at other voting stations.

I was right.

The overstated hypotheticals provided in that flier are just the tack that Vermont pro-lifers had told us a few months ago that they were going to use to oppose the reproductive rights amendment to the state constitution.

The amendment (“Proposal 5”) has been in the works for over two years now, receiving first the approval of two-thirds of the state Senate in 2020, then a majority of the state House of Representatives in 2021. It will be, in November, brought forward for a public vote.

That’s Vermont for ya, following a well-established process it had set in motion back when overturning Roe v. Wade was just a gleam in the eyes of five U.S. Supreme Court justices.

The proposed amended “Article 22, Personal reproductive liberty” reads:

That an individual’s right to personal reproductive autonomy is central to the liberty and dignity to determine one’s own life course and shall not be denied or infringed unless justified by a compelling State interest achieved by the least restrictive means.

That’s all.

* * *

So, when volunteers are distributing handouts showing a picture of a woman doctor above the words “protect our health care system / Vote no on Article 22” — in at least Chester and nearby Bellows Falls and Springfield, as well as in Manchester, Bennington, Rutland, and much of Chittenden County — it’s clear that the anti-abortion folks are taking this effort very seriously.

Unfortunately, the tack they’ve taken in this public outreach is not as reasoned as that of state Rep. Anne Donahue (R-Northfield), who recently told the Rutland Herald that her “real disappointment would be the feeling that the reason [the amendment] passed was for lack of understanding of the many consequences, one of them is late-term abortion; there are a number of others.”

No. The handout from Vermonters for Good Government (VFGG) argues, on one side, that doctors’ and nurses’ “conscience rights” will be attacked, that they’ll be required to participate in “controversial procedures,” and that “many medical professionals will seek jobs in other states.”

On the flip side of the handout, beneath a picture of a baby, we are told not to “enshrine late-term abortion” in the state constitution.

Pretty dire, isn’t it?

VFGG Executive Director Matthew Strong explained to me that Rep. Donahue’s and attorney Norman Smith’s points of view, as articulated in VTDigger earlier this year, provided a more nuanced explanation of the problems with the proposed amendment.

On the pro-amendment side, however, you’ll find a wide array of supporters, including Gov. Phil Scott. “A few years ago, we passed a law affirming that reproductive health decisions are between a patient and their doctor without government interference,” he has said. “In November, Vermonters will have the ability to codify that right in our state Constitution.”

And then there’s the support from organizations ranging from the University of Vermont Medical Center to the League of Women Voters of Vermont, the ACLU, Planned Parenthood of Vermont, the Population Media Center, and Vermonters for Reproductive Liberty.

These are hardly fringe organizations that would be willing to risk either undermining Vermont’s health-care system or promoting unreasonable abortions.

* * *

So, here we go. With 62 percent of Americans and 70 percent of Vermonters believing that abortion should be legal in most cases, Vermont has provided itself with a vehicle by which to protect that right.

Meanwhile, those who don’t believe that abortion should be permitted have found extreme ways to attack a well-reasoned decision that will soon, thanks to Vermont’s legislators, rest in the hands of the people of Vermont.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #683 (Wednesday, September 28, 2022). This story appeared on page C2.

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