State Rep. Carolyn Partridge remembers what life was like before Roe v. Wade prevented states from passing laws that unduly restricted access to abortion.
With that nearly 50-year-old Supreme Court precedent facing an uncertain future, Partridge was among Bennington and Windham county lawmakers who voted yes on Proposition 5, a constitutional amendment that would guarantee the right to reproductive freedom in Vermont. All but two lawmakers from the two counties voted yes.
Voters will consider a binding question on the proposal in the November general election.
“As a person of a certain age, I was a young woman before Roe v. Wade made reproductive rights legal,” said Partridge, D-Windham. “I remember the ‘bad old days’ when women traveled to obtain illegal abortions, sometimes with long lasting, unfortunate results.”
“Abortions have always been available for women of means – it’s low-income women who have struggled to obtain the same safe care,” she said. “For me, it’s a matter of personal choice, equity, and self-determination that will allow all Vermonters to vote in November as to whether or not Proposal 5 will become part of the Vermont Constitution.”
The measure passed the House 107-41.
Among the no votes was Rep. Mary Morrissey of Bennington.
“I voted ‘no’ today on Proposition 5 because there are no protections in this proposal for the rights of the unborn,” Morrissey said.
Among her concerns are what’s missing from the proposal, she said: parental notification rights for the parents or guardians of a minor daughter, clear language defining late term abortions, or clarity on what is not changing in current state law.
Proposition 5 “needs to be very clear and written in detail,” Morrissey said, noting that it will be difficult for the Legislature to undo any unforeseen consequences. “Presently the language is so vague that it is open to a broad range of interpretations. Floor debate made it very clear that important and personal matters would be left up to the courts to decide.”
Rep. Sally Achey, R-Middletown Springs, also voted no. The remainder of the Bennington and Windham county house delegations all voted yes.
As provided by the state Constitution, amendments must be passed by successive two-year terms of the Legislature, and then decided by the state’s voters. Tuesday’s vote was the final legislative step in that process before the question is added to the November ballot.
“This is likely the most important vote I’ll make in my service as a legislator,” Rep. Emilie Kornheiser said. “Reproductive liberty is foundational to Vermonters’ ability to participate — in our communities, the economy, and to care and build our families.
“This is also an opportunity for direct democracy,” Kornheiser said. “Changing the constitution is a weighty issue, and I’m grateful for this opportunity to hear directly from voters about our community’s faith in reproductive liberty.”
Rep. David Durfee of Shaftsbury said he voted yes on the measure twice — in 2019, when it was first considered by the House, and again Tuesday.
“Now the voters will get to decide in November whether to firmly establish as a fundamental, constitutionally grounded right, the same reproductive freedom that they have experienced for the last 50 years,” he said.
“It should be noted, that the human egg and the sperm are distinct single living cells, so no new life is formed as the egg and the sperm were already alive and fertilization is not instantaneous,” said Rep. Linda Joy Sullivan, D-Dorset. “ There is only a potential to give rise to human beings. This is true whether fertilization takes place in the body or in the laboratory. From a scientific perspective, life doesn’t begin at any one point, it is a continuum. If a pre-implantation embryo were to be considered a human being, then its lack of implantation during IVF would logically have to be considered a human death.
“All persons should have the right to choose how to control their bodies, be entitled to privacy and reproductive choice, not limited to choosing to have vasectomies, or other birth control, including abortion, or childbearing,” said Sullivan. “Moral, ethical, religious decisions or lack thereof are part of the individual’s choice. The voice on this Proposition 5 properly belongs with all people registered to vote in the State of Vermont.”
Rep. Kathleen James, D-Manchester, noted that changing the Vermont constitution is a deliberate process ultimately left to voters. “That’s as it should be — we will all have an equal say,” she said.
“If ratified, Prop 5 will ensure that all Vermonters can be assured personal reproductive liberty — to choose or refuse birth control, to choose whether to have a hysterectomy or a vasectomy, or to choose whether carry a pregnancy to term,” James said. “I believe these are fundamental human rights that deserve the protection of our state constitution. And while abortion is a wrenching moral decision, it’s also a highly personal and private decision — one I believe should be left to individuals.”
Acknowledging that reproductive rights are a personal and emotional issue, Rep. Laura Sibilia, I-Dover, said she voted yes for “the right for individuals to make decisions about their bodies and their reproductive healthcare, and for Vermonters to be able to vote for themselves on whether or not enshrining our current laws in the Vermont Constitution should happen.”
“I have been asked about the consistency of this position with my belief in requiring masks or vaccinations in public spaces,” Sibilia added. “The key difference for me is that whether or not we force women to carry a fetus to the point of viability will not jeopardize the health of every single person she encounters. However, refusing to wear a mask in public — during a global pandemic — jeopardizes the health of every person the unmasked individual encounters.”
“With other states and the federal government retreating on women’s reproductive liberty and freedom, making it harder to get needed health care, it is vital for Vermont to lead the way,” said Rep. Mike Mrowicki D-Putney. “Women don’t need government in their bedrooms or doctors offices and deserve to continue to enjoy the liberty and freedom to make their own reproductive decisions.”