Genie Rayner: 47 years after Roe v. Wade, Vermont will vote on `reproductive liberty' in November 2020

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Forty-seven years ago, on January 22, 1973, the U. S. Supreme Court passed Roe v. Wade, changing — and saving — the lives of millions of women. It took until the 20th century, but finally women across the country had legal autonomy of their bodies and their reproductive choices.

Now, in the 21st century, Vermont can protect complete and permanent reproductive choice by the legislators we elect in November 2020. According to Planned Parenthood of Northern New England (PPNNE), Proposition 5 will "amend the state constitution by adding the `reproductive liberty' amendment."

Our Vermont state legislators are already working on the "reproductive liberty" initiative, which will be on the ballot in November. It is critical, then, to discern who will best represent us in this process because PPNNE warns that if Roe v. Wade is overturned — which is possible, since over 200 members of Congress have asked the Supreme Court to do so — abortion rights will be determined by the individual states. Vermont has the opportunity to be pro-active and "first in the nation" — as we have in so many other areas — and constitutionally and permanently protect the reproductive and health choices for both men and women.

I am one of the women whose life was changed by the Roe decision. It's possible my life was saved as well. Less than a month after my first year of college, I was raped while on a blind date by a man who made sure to show me the small pistol in one of his boots and the hunting knife in the other. Would he have used one or the other if I had refused? I didn't know. What I did know was that we were alone, miles from anyone and anything I knew, with no transportation out of there. I was young, na ve, and scared, with no way to protect myself.

Back in 1974 there was no MeToo movement. By the societal and legal norms of the time, I would have been judged at fault, so I told no one about the rape — I was much too ashamed to tell my parents then — and no one except my sister when I discovered I was pregnant. The only possible option I could see was abortion, thanks, by then, to Roe v. Wade.

I did not make that decision lightly, believe me. No woman does. Even through the fog of trauma — which still appears periodically when triggered, even after all this time — I thought and prayed about all the options. I would've given anything to keep the baby, but I didn't see any other choice. So I went to the appointment wracked with guilt and in tears.

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Forty-six years later, the guilt remains. Every year, on the date I had the abortion, I spend the day in focused remembrance and atonement, asking forgiveness from God and the child-in-progress I had carried to that point.

Twenty years after that terrible day, a doctor told me I might have died if I had carried the pregnancy to term, either sometime during the pregnancy or during the birth, because of my congenital heart and other issues, which were still mostly hidden in 1974. This helped assuage my guilt somewhat, and it got me wondering how many other women were in the same situation. In addition to the women who no longer had to seek out back alley or coat hanger abortions, think of the women whose lives were saved because they had unknown medical conditions that put them at medical risk. Whatever one thinks or feels about abortion, then, it's hard to deny the benefits Roe's passage has made possible.

A young friend who's a mother of three said recently that we need to trust women. We need to trust them to make any decisions about their bodies, for their lives and families. The only other people who have any right in that decision-making are their partners, if any, and their doctors.

My decision was the hardest one I've ever had to make, but, thanks to Roe v. Wade, I was able to consider options and choices. I had full autonomy. No male-dominated laws restricted me or put my own life at risk.

It's a different world now, in some respects. It is time to ensure that reproductive liberty is written into the Vermont state constitution through Proposition 5. It is time to identify and seek out legislative candidates who will work for women's freedom of their bodies and choices.

As Lucy Leriche, VP of public affairs for the Planned Parenthood Vermont Action Fund, wrote, "It's imperative we elect legislators who are committed to protecting these rights" (Bennington Banner, January 15, 2020). Join me and vote this November and in 2022 for Prop 5. Remember: we need to trust women.

Genie Rayner is a writer and freelance editor who lives in Bennington.


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