Lucy Leriche: Protecting reproductive rights in Vermont

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More than 200 members of Congress have asked the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decision that has protected abortion rights in America since 1973. The threat to reproductive rights that we have taken for granted for decades is now squarely under attack. Our constitutional rights, well being, and dignity hang in the balance. If Roe v. Wade is overturned, it would block millions of people from the health care they need and violate citizen's rights to determine their own life's course. While the threat is very real, there is something we can do to combat it here in Vermont.

As we mark the 47th anniversary of the passage of Roe v. Wade on Jan. 22, we think about the rights that were afforded people with this landmark Supreme Court decision, and the work that still remains to ensure that we can continue to live our lives with self-determination and our freedom intact.

If Roe v. Wade is overturned, the right to an abortion will be determined by individual states. In Vermont, the legislature is already working on protections by initiating the process to amend the state constitution by adding the "reproductive liberty" amendment (Prop 5). The reproductive liberty amendment would protect Vermonters' freedom to get pregnant, carry a pregnancy to term, use contraception, get a vasectomy, or to have an abortion, and it would keep politics out of our personal health care decisions.

The need to protect these rights in the Vermont constitution has never been more urgent. In addition to the members of Congress who seek to overturn abortion rights, in March the Supreme Court will hear arguments in the June Medical Services v. Gee, with a decision expected by the end of June.

At issue in the case is a Louisiana law requiring abortion providers to have admitting privileges at a local hospital, a restriction identical to one of the Texas laws the Supreme Court struck down just three years ago in Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstedt. The Louisiana law is medically unnecessary and burdensome because, quite often, reasons for getting local admitting privileges have nothing to do with the quality of care patients receive. If allowed, the law could leave the state without a single abortion provider.

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President Trump kept his campaign promise that he would only appoint judges to the Supreme Court who would overturn Roe v. Wade. With the confirmation of Justice Brett Kavanaugh, the Court's majority shifted and the right to abortion is now threatened.

The Supreme Court has the opportunity this year to impact patients' health and rights. There are dozens more cases on abortion and reproductive health that are one step away from the Supreme Court. Any one of the abortion-related cases could result in the Court overturning, dismantling, or severely eroding reproductive rights, making it critically necessary that Vermonters' access to safe and legal abortion is protected.

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In 2020, there is still stigma tied to abortion. There is an element of bullying when it comes to abortion, and a judgmental tone with no medical benefit to patients. The reality is patients make very careful and thoughtful decisions that are in the best interest of the family they have, the family they might have one day, or choose not to have.

The freedom to steer one's future means people are able to pursue their education, to have increased participation in the work force, and to create their own financial stability. These significant quality of life issues are all tied to access to contraception and abortion care.

Fortunately, Vermont has an answer to Washington D.C.'s attacks on our rights. It's found in our voices and at the ballot box.

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Prop 5 reached its first milestone by passing in the 2019-2020 legislative session, and will also be influenced by the election of the next Vermont legislature. The legislature elected in 2020 will decide if Vermonters will have the opportunity to enshrine reproductive rights in our constitution. It's imperative we elect legislators in 2020 who are committed to protecting these rights.

If Prop 5 passes again in the 2021-2022 legislature, guarantees for reproductive rights in Vermont will then be decided by us, the voters, on Election Day in November 2022.

Vermont will become the first state in the country to explicitly protect reproductive freedom in its constitution if Prop 5 passes. Vermont has established itself as the shining example for all other states by acknowledging that every person is capable of - and must be trusted to - make their own health care decisions.

Together we can ensure that reproductive rights are protected in Vermont, no matter what happens in Washington, D.C.

Lucy Leriche is vice president of public affairs for the Planned Parenthood Vermont Action Fund.


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