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U.S. Supreme Court strikes down Roe v. Wade, abortion right still protected in Vt.

The court “has now officially given politicians permission to control what we do with our bodies, deciding that we can no longer be trusted to determine the course for our own lives. This dangerous and chilling decision.”
— Lucy Leriche of Planned Parenthood

The U.S. Supreme Court on Friday struck down the federal right to abortion by overturning its landmark Roe v. Wade decision, ending nationwide protections that have stood for nearly 50 years.

In Vermont, where abortion will remain legal, response to the decision from health care providers and politicians was swift and furious. Abortion-rights groups announced plans for protests Friday afternoon and evening in Bennington, Brattleboro, Burlington, Montpelier and Rutland.

The high court’s 6-3 ruling in Dobbs vs. Jackson Women’s Health Organization upholds a Mississippi law limiting access to abortions to 15 weeks gestation, before fetal viability. The Supreme Court’s 1992 Planned Parenthood v. Casey decision — which was also overturned Friday — established the viability test.

Mississippi’s law, signed in 2018, was crafted specifically to challenge Roe and Casey precedent, with the hope of overturning the landmark decisions for reproductive health care access.

Friday’s decision puts the question of abortion access and restrictions to state governments. It opens the door for states to ban the procedure outright or strictly limit it, no matter the gestational age of the fetus — steps that roughly half of them are expected to take, many of them immediately.

In Vermont, abortion will remain legal. State lawmakers in 2019 approved by wide margins H.57, which guaranteed the right to abortion in the state, no matter the U.S. Supreme Court’s future actions.

Vermont is also poised to become the first state in the country to enshrine abortion rights in its constitution. Following legislative approval, the proposed constitutional amendment, Proposal 5, is slated to appear on general election ballots in November.

Vermont medical providers and activists have been preparing for an expected influx of out-of-state patients since well before the Supreme Court’s draft decision was leaked in early May.

In a statement issued Friday, shortly after the ruling was released, Planned Parenthood Vermont Action Fund Vice President of Public Affairs Lucy Leriche called it “a dark day for our country.”

By overturning Roe, she said, the court “has now officially given politicians permission to control what we do with our bodies, deciding that we can no longer be trusted to determine the course for our own lives. This dangerous and chilling decision will have devastating consequences across the country, forcing people to travel hundreds, sometimes thousands, of miles for care or remain pregnant.”

A coalition of health care organizations in Vermont issued a joint statement Friday denouncing the decision. The group included the Vermont Medical Society, the University of Vermont Health Network, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Vermont and other organizations representing medical providers and patients.

“Every person should have the right to control their own health care decisions, including the right to abortion care,” they wrote. “As health care organizations, we strongly believe that abortion services should be treated like any other health care service. The consequences of overturning Roe v. Wade will block millions of people from the health care they need, especially those who have less ability to take time from work or pay the expenses to travel.

VERMONT OFFICIALS REACT

Statewide elected officials in Vermont slammed the court’s decision on Friday.

“Even though we knew it was coming from the leaked draft, it’s still shocking that the Supreme Court would literally take away a right that had been enshrined as a constitutional right, since Roe v. Wade,” U.S. Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., told VTDigger in an interview Friday. “And it’s extraordinarily dangerous to women and extraordinarily divisive for our country, and in my view, an extraordinarily weighted political decision by the Supreme Court.”

Welch’s colleagues in Vermont’s congressional delegation, echoed the sentiment.

Writing on Twitter, Independent Vt. Sen. Bernie Sanders said, “Overturning Roe v. Wade and denying women the right to control their own bodies is an outrage and in defiance of what the American people want.” He added that Senate Democrats should now end the filibuster in order to codify abortion rights in federal law.

In a written statement, Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy criticized conservative jurists and politicians for what he characterized as hypocrisy.

“For years I have heard Republicans in the Senate talk about limited government, about their worries that government interferes too much with our daily lives,” Leahy said. “ Today, I ask them, is there any more significant interference than that of getting between a woman, or any person, and their health care choices? This is hypocrisy of the highest order.”

Gov. Phil Scott, a Republican, said in a written statement that he was “deeply disappointed” in the court’s ruling. But he said that Vermont had “prepared for this unfortunate outcome” by codifying abortion rights in state law. He repeated his support for Vermont’s proposed constitutional amendment guaranteeing abortion rights and called on Congress to pass a federal law doing the same.

And House Speaker Jill Krowinski, D-Burlington, called Friday “a truly sad day in our nation’s history.” Krowinski, who previously worked for Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, said the decision was “unacceptable and unconscionable” and would set back reproductive rights by 50 years.

‘THE FUNDAMENTAL RIGHT’

In 2019, Democratic majorities in the Vermont House and Senate approved by wide margins H.57, which guaranteed the right to abortion in the state. The bill codified in statute longstanding case law. Most of Addison County’s Legislative delegation voted in favor. Only Rep. Harvey Smith, R-New Haven, and Rep. Terry Norris, I-Shoreham, voted against; neither are running for re-election this year.

“The State of Vermont recognizes the fundamental right of every individual who becomes pregnant to choose to carry a pregnancy to term, to give birth to a child, or to have an abortion,” the law read.

In June 2019, Scott signed H.57, a law now known as the Freedom of Choice Act.

“This legislation affirms what is already allowable in Vermont — protecting reproductive rights and ensuring those decisions remain between a woman and her health care provider,” the governor wrote upon signing the bill.

During the same legislative session, lawmakers began working on a more lasting approach to protect abortion rights in the state. That year, the Vermont House and Senate signed off on Proposal 5, an amendment to the Vermont Constitution to guarantee sexual and reproductive freedoms. This February, the Vermont House gave it final legislative approval, ensuring that the question would appear on the general election ballot this November.

Should a majority of voters support the measure, Vermont would become the first state to make such an amendment part of its state constitution.

The amendment would read, “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.”

Vermont’s abortion protections long predate the Freedom of Choice Act and Proposal 5. In 1972, even before Roe v. Wade was decided, the Vermont Supreme Court “affirmed the right of a woman to abort,” extending the practice beyond those whose pregnancies endangered their lives.

Across the country, every state has varying degrees of abortion protections. Vermont is one of only four states and the District of Columbia that protects the right to abortion throughout pregnancy. Many states, including New Hampshire, have no explicit protections or bans.

According to the Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive rights advocacy group, 26 states are poised to outright ban or severely restrict abortion access once federal protections dissolve.

Leriche, of Planned Parenthood Vermont Action Fund, told VTDigger last month that Vermont’s clinics are anticipating an influx of out-of-state patients who cannot access abortions at home. One of the state’s six Planned Parenthood clinics that perform abortions has since closed.

Vermont is located in a “whole cluster of states where abortion remains safe and legal,” Leriche said, so she anticipates no more than a 10% increase in patients — a rise that she believes Vermont has the capacity to accommodate.

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