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Sen. Patrick Leahy took to the floor of the U.S. Senate this week in defense of the Women’s Health Protection Act. The vote failed.

The dean of the Senate made a strong statement.

“A woman’s right to make choices about her own body is a constitutional right. It was affirmed by the Supreme Court nearly 50 years ago. Polling — as if that should be the benchmark by which we legislate — shows that nearly two-out-of-three Americans believe the fundamental right established in 1973’s Roe v. Wade should be upheld. Yet here we are today — a body of 100, 76 percent of which are male — making decisions about the private lives of the nearly 168 million women in this country. That’s ludicrous.”

If there has been anything that the past week or so has shown us is that Congress should continue to support legislation that affirms a woman’s right to access comprehensive health care from a trusted provider without interference.

“The right of any woman to receive the health care they choose and seek should be important to each and every one of us. Women — our mothers, daughters, sisters, aunts, friends — they know what is best for them in their own lives. How patronizing to suggest otherwise. How patriarchal. How insulting. How dangerous,” Leahy chastised his colleagues.

He pointed to his home state, and how, in 2019, the Vermont House and Senate by wide margins approved the Freedom of Choice Act, which guarantees the right to access safe abortion care in Vermont. Republican Gov. Phil Scott signed that bill into law in June 2019.

“If the (U.S. Supreme) Court does overturn Roe, the Freedom of Choice Act would protect this health care right in Vermont,” he said.

“The unfortunate reality is that 26 other states stand ready to ban abortion rights in the absence of Roe. What are the women of these states to do? And prominent Republican voices in the Senate even now say they would not rule out the possibility that a future Senate and Congress would overrule such state laws in Vermont and elsewhere, and impose a national ban on women’s choice. And what laws are these states prepared to pass — what resources are they prepared to provide — to support these women and the children they will bear? The answer we know, and I fear, is none. States will determine what you do, but they won’t do anything to help you afterward,” Leahy said.

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He went on: “For decades, the Supreme Court has stood as an independent arbiter in this country. Striking down a constitutional right that has supported millions of Americans, not just women, will cause many to lose confidence in the integrity of our judicial system. Worse still, it could threaten the rights protected under the precedent set by Roe and affirmed in other cases. I acknowledge the fear that many are feeling right now about that possibility.”

Leahy stated that is what his office is hearing, and pleaded with his colleagues in the Senate to pass the act.

“What would the suffragists say of us today? What would the icons of the civil rights movement say of us today? A vote against the Women’s Health Protection Act is a vote against equality. It’s a vote against women, plain and simple. It’s a vote against the progress we have made to right the wrongs of inequality. And it is at odds with what an overwhelming majority of the American public believes. It says in many states in this country, women will be treated differently than men,” Leahy said.

The senator, who is not seeking re-election after serving Vermonters for decades, pointed out that the inequity goes further.

“You know, my sons and grandsons can travel anywhere in the United States knowing the law is the same for them. My daughter and granddaughters, under this, would know they could not be treated the same as they traveled around the country. What does that say about America, that our sons and our grandsons will be treated differently than our daughters and our granddaughters? Our daughters and our granddaughters will be told by some states, you have (fewer) rights than your brothers or your fathers or your uncles.”

We share Leahy’s concern for the doomed act. The Senate could have codified protections.

“Shame on this Senate today. I stand with women — my wife, my daughter, my granddaughters — when I say that I trust them to make the health decisions that are best for them. And I will fight against any effort to erode those fundamental, constitutional rights. That’s what the Senate should do; that’s what we should do if we truly are going to be the conscience of the Nation. That’s what this Vermonter intends to do,” he said.

Barre-Montpelier Times-Argus