‘Compelling State interest’ is clearly defined

BRATTLEBORO — Contrary to what Erica Walch writes, a “compelling State interest” limiting personal reproductive autonomy is clearly defined in United States law, and we need passage of Article 22 to the Vermont Constitution to limit it and protect Vermonters' right to abortion.

Article 22 states: “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.”

Currently, elective abortion is legal in Vermont, but in times past, it was prohibited. It is not true that the state can't interfere with that right. The very first law in Vermont's criminal code (13 VSA sec. 101–104) used to prohibit “purposefully [doing] some of things prohibited intending thereby to procure miscarriage of a woman pregnant or supposed by him to be, and that such miscarriage was not necessary to save her life.” This law was on the books from 1867 until 2013, and elective abortion was prosecuted as a crime in Vermont through 1970.

In 1972, in the case of Beecham v. Leahy, the Vermont Supreme Court ruled that “the prohibitory regulations of this section (13 VSA sec. 101) do not apply to [the pregnant female]. [...] As to her, her personal rights have been left to her, and there is no legislative declaration saying that her own concerns for her personal integrity are in any way criminal or proscribed.”

Thus, the court turned the original patronizing, patriarchal intent of Vermont's longstanding abortion criminalization legislation on its head to grant a right to elective abortion to women in Vermont just before Roe v. Wade was decided by the Supreme Court of the United States on Jan. 22, 1973.

The argument that the legal definition of “a compelling state interest” is vague and open to dangerous interpretation is also not true. Even U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito's decision in the recently decided Dobbs v. Jackson abolishing the right to elective abortion is very clear about the compelling government interest in birth and pushes it to the extreme.

Birth of a fetus late in stages of development, especially if it is viable outside of the womb, unless the life or health of the pregnant person is endangered, is a compelling state interest established in United States law in Roe v. Wade, Casey v. Planned Parenthood and Dobbs. Maybe forced sterilization and other evils would be reinstated if the “originalist” Federalist Society judges appointed by the Republicans have their way. That is another reason why Vermont needs Article 22.

A constitutional amendment is needed to protect elective abortion in Vermont because Vermont has passed laws prohibiting elective abortion in the past and could again - especially if Republicans pass a national abortion ban and it is left to the Republican-appointed right-wing Federalist Society judges to interpret it.

When advocating for Article 22, Rep. George Till of Jericho, a board-certified obstetrician-gynecologist who has served in the Vermont Legislature since 2008 and is an associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Vermont School of Medicine, pointed out that no fewer than five bills to restrict elective abortion were introduced in the Vermont Legislature in the past session, and he expects them to keep being filed.

Passage of Article 22 is needed to place our state's right to allow elective abortion in our constitution, establish a cause of action of Vermont's right as a state to fight any national abortion ban passed by a Republican Congress and president, and stop any inclination of future Vermont legislators to take away our rights.

Please vote yes for Article 22.