Outraged by Dobbs decision, Vermont neighbors host bike ride for reproductive liberty amendment
On a sunny morning in September, dozens of people drove up a dirt road in Pomfret for a mountain bike ride. There were volunteers in bright pink shirts, families with little kids, and athletes decked out in helmets and fanny packs.
Two of the organizers — Leah Skypeck and Jordie Jusidman, both from Pomfret — addressed the first group of riders.
“Of course today is about empowering ourselves to have the life that we want, bike the route we want, have self-determination,” Skypeck said. “In November we got to ...” she trailed off. “Turn out the vote!” Jusidman finished for her.
The event was a fundraiser for Vermont’s reproductive liberty amendment, or Prop 5. If passed, it would enshrine existing protections on abortion access already in Vermont law into the state Constitution, so those laws couldn’t be changed down the line.
The ride started in front of Skypeck’s house, on trails she helped build with friends and family.
A few months earlier though, Skypeck hadn’t heard anything about the proposed amendment. She didn’t know it existed. What got her here, standing in front of these strangers, was the overturning of Roe v. Wade.
“After the Dobbs decision in late June, I wasn’t angry, I was just sad,” Skypeck told me. She’s a physician assistant, and wasn’t very involved with politics before this summer.
“I found the things I really loved kind of seemed pointless. Like running or riding or hanging out with friends, it was like, ‘Well what’s the point?’ There’s this bigger issue that feels so huge,” Skypeck said.
“This was like a bolt of lightning. There really was a before-Dobbs and an after-Dobbs experience.”Professor Felicia Kornbluh, University of Vermont
Driving to work one morning, listening to the radio, she heard an interview with a community organizer describing exactly how she was feeling — that pointlessness — and what she could do about it.
“It’s like she came out of the radio and was talking to me,” Skypeck said. “She sort of gave advice about how to turn things you enjoy into mechanisms for action.”
It gave her this idea she couldn’t get out of her head: Organizing a gravel and mountain bike ride and run. “And all the money — the entry fee could go to a cause supporting this effort to protect reproductive rights,” Skypeck said.
The cause she found was Prop 5, or Article 22, Vermont's reproductive liberty amendment. Skypeck told Jusidman, and another neighbor, an artist named Sarah Lauridsen, about the idea, and they agreed to help.
The ride they put together was part of a bigger movement happening all over the country after the overturning of Roe.
“This was like a bolt of lightning. There really was a before-Dobbs and an after-Dobbs experience,” said Felicia Kornbluh, a professor at the University of Vermont who studies feminist activism. “It was so great that people [in Vermont] had something positive to focus their energy around, and not just to think about the negative.”
Kornbluh is also on the board of Planned Parenthood Vermont Action Fund, which is supporting the campaign to pass the amendment. She’s traveled throughout the state talking about it, like recently at a temple in South Burlington.
“I could just kind of feel in the room when I said to people, 'Look, we need your help,'” she said. “We have an opportunity to do something that would really codify these rights in Vermont law, but we also have the opportunity to say something to the national conversation.”
It seems like that message has resonated. There’s been a ton of money thrown around for ads and canvassing on both sides of this campaign: more than $1 million, as of the beginning of October.
The executive director at Vermont Right to Life says their donations are up by about 15% this year.
And the major group opposing the amendment — Vermonters for Good Government — has received donations from more than 1,500 people.
“We now have yard signs from Brattleboro to Island Pond,” said Matthew Strong, the executive director. “It’s definitely what I would consider a gubernatorial campaign-level effort.”
At the ride in Pomfret, many people said they were there supporting Prop 5, because of the Dobbs decision.
“When all this stuff started to happen and turn back the clock, it became on my radar,” said Jason Michaelides from Stowe. “I wasn’t paying attention to it before that. But once I heard about it, I was like, of course Vermont’s going to do something like that.”
It looks like the measure will pass. A recent poll by the University of New Hampshire found that three-quarters of Vermonters surveyed would vote to ratify the amendment.
And Vermont isn’t alone. Two other states — California and Michigan — have ballot measures that would establish a constitutional right to abortion. They also have a good chance of passing on Election Day.
Lexi Krupp is a corps member for Report for America, a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on under-covered issues and regions.