What the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court draft opinion means for Vermont abortion rights
The Supreme Court may be close to striking down Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 case that guarantees a Constitutional right to an abortion. Strong reactions from both sides of the abortion debate spread across the country late Monday after Politico published a leaked draft majority opinion.
The court’s draft opinion sparked overnight protests outside the Supreme Court, and set the stage for months of debate during a midterm election year. Chief Justice John Roberts confirmed the authenticity of the leaked draft opinion Tuesday and ordered an investigation, according to the Associated Press.
In Vermont, state law protects a person’s right to an abortion. Here’s what we know about the state’s reproductive rights laws and what effect the Supreme Court ruling would have on them if it becomes official:
What’s the current status of abortion rights in Vermont?
Vermonters’ right to an abortion is protected by Act 47, a law passed in 2019. The law recognizes a person’s fundamental right to reproductive choice, including the rights to contraception and abortion.
Vermont has none of the restrictions on abortions that are found in many other states, such as waiting periods, trimester limits, mandated parental involvement or restrictions on public funding for abortion providers.
Vermonters can receive abortions at hospitals, from private medical practices, and from clinics like Planned Parenthood.
While Vermonters’ right to an abortion is protected by law, some abortion rights advocates worry legislation cannot ensure those freedoms long term.
“Elections matter. If a majority of anti-abortion politicians take control of the legislature, they could pass laws restricting or even banning abortion,” wrote Lucy Leriche, Planned Parenthood Vermont Action Fund’s vice president of public affairs, in a statement Tuesday.
If the Supreme Court overturns Roe, how would that affect Vermonters’ ability to get an abortion?
Vermonters would still be able to get an abortion. If the U.S. Supreme Court were to overturn Roe v. Wade, abortion laws would fall to the states, and Vermont has a statutory backstop in place.
However, lawmakers who oppose abortion have been planning a national push to ban abortions through federal legislation, according to reporting by the Washington Post.
Isn’t Vermont also considering a constitutional amendment to protect abortion access?
Yes. The proposed amendment is called Prop 5. It would add language into the state’s constitution to protect “personal reproductive autonomy.” It has been working its way through the legislative process for three years.
Last year, the state Senate voted 26 to 4 in support of the amendment. In February, the House voted 107 to 41 in favor, following heated debate on the House floor.
Some lawmakers opposed the amendment because, in part, they worry a constitutional amendment would be too difficult to change if Vermonters’ opinions on abortion shift in the future. (Vermont’s constitution is “unusually difficult to amend,” according to UVM political science professor Lisa Holmes.)
Proponents of the bill, such as Chittenden Democratic Rep. Ann Pugh, say the amendment was indeed written with a mind toward protecting reproductive liberties in the long term.
“Some states have constitutional amendments or laws that rely on privacy as the basis for reproductive liberty,” Pugh said on the House floor in February. “If Roe v. Wade is eroded, those provisions may be called into question, because Roe relied on privacy interest in abortions. Proposal 5 instead relies instead on constitutional protections of Vermont’s article 1 and 7–freedom and common benefits.”
The final decision now sits with Vermont voters: The amendment will appear on the ballot in November.
What does Gov. Phil Scott think?
Scott, a Republican, has signaled his support for Prop 5.
On Tuesday, he released the following statement: “I know many Vermonters are very concerned about reports the Supreme Court may overturn Roe. Although no one can know for sure that this draft will be the final opinion, I want Vermonters to be assured that this state has prepared for this possibility. Three years ago, we enacted a law that affirms the fundamental rights of all women and ensures reproductive health decisions remain between a woman and her health care provider–totally free from government interference. It is important for Vermonters to know this will remain true in Vermont regardless of what happens with the Supreme Court. And Vermonters will have the opportunity to solidify this right in November, when Prop. 5 amending Vermont’s constitution is on the ballot. The fundamental rights and liberties of all women will be defended, protected and preserved in Vermont.”
What actions have other states taken to protect or curtail abortion access?
Since conservatives achieved a majority on the Supreme Court, Republican-led states began passing restrictions on abortion, hoping the issue would make its way to the highest court. If the Supreme Court allows states to ban abortion, 26 states are certain or likely to ban abortion, according to the Guttmacher Institute, which tracks abortion laws.
A number of states have recently passed laws banning abortion after 15 weeks gestation, and Texas has banned abortions after around six weeks.
What’s going to happen next?
The leaked draft isn’t an official court opinion and could change. A Supreme Court isn’t expected to announce its opinion on the case until late June.
Protests and rallies on both sides of the debate are currently unfolding across the country. A representative from Planned Parenthood of Northern New England told VPR they are urging people to show up at courthouses, federal buildings and town squares across Vermont on Tuesday at 5 p.m. in support of abortion rights.
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