BRATTLEBORO — This town's initial protest against the U.S. Supreme Court's recent ruling to overturn abortion rights was simple: 100 people congregating downtown to chant, “My body, my choice.”
Ten days later, a local demonstrator, saying “forced birth is appallingly cruel and morally grotesque,” marched naked down Main Street, doused in fake blood, just before the start of the Fourth of July parade.
Now the Selectboard is considering making its own statement with “A Resolution to Protect Pregnant People's Access to Abortion,” which comes with calls to spend up to $100,000 in tax money to financially assist supportive health care providers.
Within weeks, the conversation has grown much more complicated.
“If this does get passed, it will set an example for other Vermont towns,” Selectboard member Jessica Gelter said of the resolution she has proposed for discussion at the next board meeting on Tuesday, Aug. 2.
The draft statement asks municipal officials to refuse to assist investigations of abortions, encourage the town “to recognize the safety needs” of health care providers when permitting opponents to protest, and support “safe, equitable and accessible reproductive health care for all of Brattleboro's citizens through any means that it is able.”
Gelter's colleagues, presented with the proposal this week, are voicing diverse opinions.
Selectboard member Daniel Quipp is questioning whether local leaders can endorse a resolution they may not have the power to enforce.
“I think this is more of a statement of values rather than something with legal standing,” Quipp said. “I'm not sure what's in this that would, in law, protect somebody.”
Board member Elizabeth McLoughlin is concerned about the town offering an opinion when a proposed Vermont constitutional amendment ensuring “personal reproductive liberty” is set for a statewide vote this fall.
“I feel the Selectboard is a nonpartisan body,” McLoughlin said. “I don't think it's appropriate for us to be influencing that decision or even share what our beliefs and wishes are.”
Local activist Kurt Daims is urging the Selectboard to spend $100,000 immediately to support Planned Parenthood and other local and national reproductive health providers.
“You could fund it right away,” Daims said, “and later decide whether to take the money out of the unassigned fund balance or to raise taxes.”
Gelter supports local government offering some sort of financial assistance, although her colleagues say any such expenditure should be approved by Brattleboro's Human Services Review Committee and Town Meeting representatives.
The Selectboard expects to discuss and possibly vote on the resolution at its next meeting.