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Mary Gerisch, of Bennington, a retired human rights lawyer, is scheduled to speak virtually at the hearing in support of Proposition 5, an amendment that supports reproductive rights.

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BENNINGTON — A retired attorney and advocate from Bennington will tell Vermont legislators that reproductive freedom is an essential human right when she testifies Wednesday before a House panel.

A public hearing for the Reproductive Liberty Amendment, also known as Proposition 5, will be held virtually and in person on Wednesday from 6 to 8 p.m. by the House Human Services Committee. Mary Gerisch, a retired human rights lawyer, is scheduled to speak virtually at the hearing in support of the amendment.

The proposed amendment to the Vermont Constitution aims to protect reproductive autonomy, which includes the right to choose or refuse birth control, abortion, carrying a pregnancy to term and sterilization.

Gerisch said reproductive autonomy is a human rights issue, adding, "All of the different kinds of human rights that we have, according to the [United Nations], according to general morality, or whatever standard you want to use, are impacted by this — whether it’s gender identity, whether it’s ethnicity or ability.”

The proposed amendment would not only protect a person’s right to choose abortion, but it would also protect a person’s right to choose to become a parent.

Gerisch pointed out that she is familiar with this issue and the history of forced sterilizations because of her Lakota background, “I know they’ve done the same thing to other folks of color and other ethnicities.”

“When we don’t have protections for people to exercise their dignity, in claiming their human rights, people die," she said. "It’s about health care ... you have a human right to health care. With everyone trying to overturn Roe v. Wade at the Supreme Court, this gives us an out on that.”

The proposed amendment would prevent “back alley abortions,” Gerisch said. She grew up in Detroit at a time when so-called back alley abortions were common.

“A lot of people died from those. Even if you don’t believe in abortion, certainly you believe in having proper health care and having people not die from botched surgeries,” Gerisch said.

Vermonters have had the rights passed down from Roe v. Wade for over half a century, without major restrictions placed on them. In some other states, people seeking abortions must face waiting periods, limitations on public funding and state-mandated, medically inaccurate counseling, such as the false link between abortion and breast cancer.

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Opponents of Proposition 5 believe the amendment goes too far and will allow abortion throughout all nine months of pregnancy.

However, only 1 to 2 percent of all abortions occur after 20 weeks, and a very small fraction occur after 24 weeks, according to the Turnaway Study, which followed the long-term effects for women who received an abortion versus those who were denied an abortion. 

“In addition to those with maternal or fetal health reasons for abortion, there are women who are late in discovering they are pregnant or who experience significant barriers to getting an abortion,” writes Diana Greene Foster, study author.

Proposition 5 would prohibit Vermont’s interference in reproductive access unless there was a compelling state interest.

“It’s not about abortions. It’s about our right to live a dignified life and our right to be able to exercise our human rights in all different aspects,” Gerisch said.

The passing or dismissal of the amendment could potentially affect the funding that Planned Parenthood receives in the future, which could prevent several services, including abortion, from continuing.

“I’m talking about health care, mental health care, things that aren’t available readily, and things that people really need, [including] people who have reproductive health issues of any kind,” Gerisch said. “Their funding shouldn’t be dependent on the passage of Prop. 5.”

Proposition 5 will need to pass through the House with a majority of votes, and then will appear on ballots for Vermonters to vote in November.

To watch the hearing online, visit legislature.vermont.gov/committee/streaming/house-human-services.


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