Less than 24 hours after an emotional public hearing, the Vermont House Committee on Human Services approved a bill establishing abortion rights in state law.
The Thursday morning vote on H.57 was 8-3, with all three Republican members voting no. The yes votes came from the panel's six Democrats plus Reps. Sandy Haas (P-Rochester) and Kelly Pajala (I-Londonderry).
The bill was amended in an effort to clarify its intent. Opponents had claimed that H.57 would open the door to unlimited abortion rights. Supporters argued that the bill would not supersede federal laws, and that state law has contained no limits on abortion access since 1972 without any nightmare scenarios coming to pass.
The new version of H.57 eliminates a provision declaring that fetuses have no rights. It also adds language specifying that the bill would not supersede the federal ban on late-term dilation and extraction procedures, which abortion opponents refer to as "partial-birth abortions."
Fetuses currently have no rights in Vermont law due to the 1989 Vermont Supreme Court decision in State v. Oliver. The case involved a traffic crash resulting in the death of a fetus. The court ruled that there was no legal basis to charge the offending driver with negligent operation of a vehicle resulting in death.
The House Judiciary Committee will take up the bill next week.