February 10, 2019
The following commentary was written by my district mate, Rep. Theresa Wood. Because the federal law written under Roe v. Wade is threatened like at no other time since the 1970’s, Vermont is considering codifying the protections for women and for the health of a fetus in our state law. We have relied on the federal law, in combination with several court rulings, to maintain these protections because we never thought the federal law was in danger of being overturned. To protect Vermonters, we are considering H.57. This is Rep. Wood’s explanation of the bill.
Facts matter. And so do emotions. H.57 – “An act relating to preserving the right to abortion” has been the subject of intense, often emotional debate and testimony in the State House over the last three weeks. Perhaps the most visible of this debate occurred during the public hearing attended by hundreds of Vermonters – both pro and against the bill.
As proposed, the bill recognizes the fundamental right to the freedom of reproductive choice for women. Because this is an emotionally charged issue, it is important to understand some of the facts. This bill does not change current practice in Vermont, or in fact, the practice as it has been for more than 40 years since the 1973 Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade – notably one of the Supreme Court’s most controversial decisions. Given the politics in Washington, there is considerable debate about whether the Supreme Court will eventually overturn Roe v. Wade and leave it entirely up to individual states.
This bill does not allow for partial or full birth abortions that are specifically prohibited by the 2003 “Partial Birth Abortion Act” enacted by Congress. All medical providers must comply with this federal law. The bill does not change the ability of a woman to sue for wrongful death if something goes wrong during her pregnancy. Testimony revealed that abortions in Vermont are declining – that’s good news. They are declining because of improved education and increased access to family planning and birth control. In Vermont, 1.3 percent of abortions occurred later in pregnancy – only because of the mother’s health or viability of the child – not for elective purposes of the mother. No elective late term abortions are performed in Vermont according to the Vermont Medical Society.
As the bill was discussed in my committee, I introduced an amendment to remove the section that stated, “A fertilized egg, embryo or fetus shall not be considered a person.” This amendment passed, and that section is now omitted from the bill. We also added reference to the federal statute banning partial or full birth abortions. With these two amendments, the bill passed out of the House Human Services Committee by a vote of 8 – 3.
With the amendments and clarifications around the lack of late term elective abortions noted above, I voted in favor of the bill. This was a deeply difficult decision that I did not take lightly. I remain grateful for all of the notes and calls I received from constituents sharing their deeply held views both in favor and opposition to the bill. In the end I believe that these decisions are intensely personal, and best made by women with consultation from their medical providers.
The bill has now been referred to the House Judiciary Committee, which will begin taking testimony next week. It will come to the House floor for a full vote later this month and then, if passed, it will move to the Senate. It is fair to say that there will be other amendments offered along the way, so if you want to watch the progress of the bill you can do so on the legislative website: https://legislature.vermont.gov/bill/status/2020/H.57