The Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. What it means for Vermonters
Updated 7:22 p.m.
On Friday, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 case which guaranteed the right to an abortion. The decision will lead to total bans or major restrictions on abortions in about half of the states in the country.
Abortion remains legal in Vermont. The right to the procedure is protected by a state law passed in 2019. Act 47 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.
There are nine facilities that provide the procedure across the state. About 1,300 people get an abortion each year, according to the Guttmacher Institute. That's less than 1% of the total number of abortions that occur in the country each year.
Vermonters across the state protested the Supreme Court's decision on Friday. In Burlington, hundreds attended a demonstration outside the Universalist Church. Several state legislators spoke, including Winooski Rep. Taylor Small and Chittenden County Sen. Kesha Ram Hinsdale.
Some attendees shared their own abortion stories, or experiences having miscarriages. Elizabeth Deutsch, who is a labor and delivery nurse, told the audience abortion is health care. She described the hemorrhaging some birthing people experience after labor, and comforting patients undergoing a miscarriage.
“Abortion is a really personal decision, and people make it for any number of reasons,” Deutsch said. “And it doesn’t matter what their reasons are. We should trust women and allow them to make the choices that are best for them.”
Cassie Gillespie of Underhill and Leslie Stapelton of Burlington were there with their daughters. Stapelton said she wasn’t surprised to see the Supreme Court’s ruling, but that it was surprisingly emotional for her.
Gillespie said they both feel it’s important to show their daughters they are speaking up for reproductive rights.
“We were talking this morning that we’re not always, like out in the streets,” she said. “And then we were talking, over text, and we were like, ‘No. We’re going in the streets.’”
"[W]e’re not always, like out in the streets,. And then we were talking, over text, and we were like, ‘No. We’re going in the streets.’”Cassie Gillespie, Underhill
Health providers in Vermont also criticized the Supreme Court's ruling. In a joint statement, more than a dozen organizations including the Planned Parenthood Vermont Action Fund, the University of Vermont Health Network and the Vermont Medical Society said they “strongly support the preservation of access to abortion services in the United States.”
Jessa Barnard with the Vermont Medical Society says many providers here will be interested in helping patients who live in states where abortion is banned. And she says the Medical Society and other groups will work with state lawmakers to carve out new statutory protections.
“So things like assisting with the expenses, things like protecting Vermont providers who may want to provide telemedicine services or services to patients who have traveled from other states,” Barnard said.
She added that prohibitions on abortion could lead desperate patients into unsafe ways of ending pregnancies.
Lucy Leriche with the Planned Parenthood Vermont Action Fund says Vermont and nearby states don't have abortion restrictions in place — so she doesn't expect a surge of out-of-state people seeking the procedure.
“But honestly, nobody knows,” she said. “We can model all day long, but it’s the reality that will show us what in fact is going to happen.”
Meanwhile, Vermont is poised to become the first state to enshrine the right to an abortion in its Constitution. A proposed amendment, Prop 5, would add language protecting "personal reproductive autonomy" into the state constitution.
The final step in the process occurs this November, when Prop 5 will appear as on the general election ballot.
According to a 2022 poll by Vermont Public Radio and Vermont PBS, about two-thirds of Vermonters support the amendment. But opponents are still gearing up for a fight.
"It tends to kind of be a black or white issue, you’re either pro-life totally, or pro-choice everything," said Matthew Strong, who heads the anti-Prop 5 organization Vermonters for Good Government. "What we’re seeing when we talk to real folks, is there’s a huge spectrum of opinions that we’re trying to just educate people about."
“We are still facing very much an up-hill challenge. In terms of trying to, we would say, a creating a greater culture of life, so that abortion isn’t as celebrated here as it presently is.”Monsignor John McDermott, Roman Catholic Diocese of Burlington
Catholic leaders in Vermont worry the Supreme Court decision will garner more support for abortion access in the state, including Prop 5.
“We are still facing very much an up-hill challenge,” said Monsignor John McDermott, with the Roman Catholic Diocese of Burlington. “In terms of trying to, we would say, a creating a greater culture of life, so that abortion isn’t as celebrated here as it presently is.”
Vermont Right to Life executive director Mary Hahn Beerworth says the proposed amendment would effectively end her organization’s push for increased restrictions on access to abortion in Vermont.
“We’ll always be hoping to bring some protection to women and to their unborn children in law,” she said. “But the constitutional amendment goes so far beyond Roe, and that’s our message to Vermonters.”
Beerworth says Vermont Right to Life wants to pursue legislation that would require parental consent before minors can access abortion services.
Advocates who work with LGBTQ+ youth in Vermont say the Supreme Court's ruling on Roe v. Wade raises concerns about the court's ability to dismantle other civil rights.
Some legal experts have questioned whether the Roe decision could open the door for challenges to decisions about gay marriage and birth control.
Dana Kaplan leads the nonprofit Outright Vermont. He says this decision sets a dangerous precedent that will impact marginalized communities first.
"And really in a time when LGBTQ youth and specifically trans youth have been facing the possibility of hundreds of pieces of legislation across the country that have been targeting their rights and identity," Kaplan said.
He added that this decision will disproportionately impact young people who already face barriers to health care because of systemic racism and other forms of discrimination.
"That is not new at all,” Kaplan said. “And so what is true is that we have incredible practice being resilient, and we have incredible practice living life joyfully against odds."
Kaplan says adults who work with LGBTQ+ youth can help by doubling down on helping them get accurate information about gender affirming reproductive and other health care. He says Outright Vermont will continue to offer education to health care providers about affirming reproductive care for transgender youth.
How Vermont's leaders are responding to the news:
Gov. Phil Scott: In response to the Supreme Court decision, Gov. Phil Scott said in a statement that he was "deeply disappointed."
"[T]his decision rolls back a federal right that women have had for decades," Scott said. "It’s important to note, a woman’s right to choose is a principle we will uphold in Vermont, and we, in fact, have prepared for this unfortunate outcome."
Scott, a Republican, signed the 2019 law protecting the right to an abortion. He has also signaled his support for Prop 5 in the past.
Lt. Gov. Molly Gray: The lieutenant governor and Congressional candidate called today a "tragic day" for human rights.
“Never in my lifetime has an established fundamental right been stripped away,” she wrote in a statement. “SCOTUS has failed spectacularly in its duty to protect and uphold the constitutional precedent.”
Gray also said Vermont should act as “a north star for the nation, to stand together and lead the way toward a safer and more just future for all.”
Sen. Patrick Leahy: The state's senior senator, who plans to retire this fall, called the ruling a governmental overreach.
“State legislatures cannot write their way through the myriad of circumstances that can arise for women in pregnancy. These states, though, say today that they know best,” Leahy wrote in a statement. “The Court, today, says that those state legislatures know best. No, not the 163 million women in this country. Not a woman about her own body. Government knows best.”
Leahy also told Vermont Public that he's worried that the decision could open the door for the Court to overturn many other precedents that are based on an individual's right to privacy, including the constitutional right protecting same sex marriage.
Sen. Bernie Sanders: Vermont's junior senator said six Supreme Court justices "have made the outrageous and reactionary assertion that women in our country should not be able to control their own bodies."
"This decision cannot be allowed to stand," Sanders said in a statement. "If Republicans can end the filibuster to install right wing judges to overturn Roe v. Wade, Democrats can and must end the filibuster, codify Roe v. Wade, and make abortion legal and safe. That is exactly what we must do NOW.”
Rep. Peter Welch: Welch said the decision is a “disgrace," but echoed Sen. Sanders and called for the fight to continue.
“We have to keep fighting to protect abortion access for all American women, regardless of where they live. That means codifying the right to safe and legal abortion by passing the Women’s Health Protection Act in the Senate. To do that, we must overturn the filibuster, so that the Senate can finally reflect the will of the majority of Americans and ensure the right to safe and legal abortion.”
In an interview with Vermont Public, Welch noted that several conservative justices said at their confirmation hearings that they had no intention of overturning Roe, and that Friday's decision will undermine public confidence in the Court.
Find more coverage here:
- Four Vermonters share their abortion stories as the Supreme Court weighs Roe v. Wade
- Vermonters will vote on adding abortion rights to the Constitution this fall. What would Prop 5 do?
- What the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court draft opinion means for Vermont abortion rights
- Vt. abortion rights opponent on the Supreme Court leak, proposed reproductive rights amendment