Vermont Senate Approves 'rEproductive Liberty' Amendment

The Vermont Senate gave its final approval Friday to a proposal to amend the state constitution to protect a woman’s right to an abortion and other reproductive services.

The proposal, a declaration of the “right to personal reproductive liberty,” will now be sent to the Vermont House. If approved by the House, it will go before Vermont voters in a statewide referendum in November 2022.

The Senate also on Friday passed a separate proposed amendment to that would explicitly ban slavery in all forms in Vermont.

In a debate before the abortion proposal, Democratic state Sen. Ginny Lyons said the amendment was proposed because of concerns the U.S. Supreme Court could weaken a women’s right to an abortion.

The proposal goes beyond just guaranteeing a woman's right to an abortion by including the right to access other types of reproductive services, such as family planning services and contraception, Lyons said.

“There is a surge in state abortion bans, anti-abortion constitutional amendments and government-imposed, medically unnecessarily restrictions on women's reproductive autonomy,” Lyons said during the Senate's remote meeting. “Most alarming is an overall limitation on access to women's health care."

The proposal passed the Senate 26-4, but no one spoke against it during the floor debate that preceded the vote.

Mary Hahn Beerworth of the Vermont Right to Life Committee said she felt the wording of the proposed amendment was too broad and could have unintended consequences.

“We are walking into a quagmire here,” she said.

Two years ago, the Vermont Legislature also passed a separate law that guarantees a woman's right to an abortion. Proponents say both the law and the proposed amendment are needed in the event that the U.S. Supreme Court ever overturns the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, which legalized abortion nationwide.

The Senate also approved amending the constitution to explicitly ban slavery in Vermont. The state constitution currently says no person 21 or older should serve as a slave unless bound by their own consent or “by law for the payment of debts, damages, fines, costs, or the like.”

The amendment, which passed the Senate 29-1, would remove that language and add that slavery and indentured servitude in any form are prohibited.

The one lawmaker who voted against the slavery amendment, Democratic Sen. Dick McCormack, said the founders of Vermont, who wrote the original constitution, outlawed slavery, but their wording wasn't perfect and the change isn't needed.

“This is putting a smiley face on history,” he said.

It's unclear when the House will act on the proposed amendments.