The House Judiciary Committee has approved legislation to protect abortion rights in Vermont law. The Friday morning vote to send the bill to the full House was 9-2. Rep. Tom Burditt (R-Rutland) was the only Republican to vote in favor of it.
Supporters say the bill is necessary in case the conservative majority on the U.S. Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade, the decision that established a legal right to abortion.
Opponents have claimed that H.57 would open the door to unlimited abortion rights — even for late-term abortions. Not so, said legislative counsel Brynn Hare. "Any procedure prohibited under federal law would continue to be prohibited under H.57," she told the committee.
The revised bill makes clear that its intent is "to safeguard the existing rights to access reproductive health services in Vermont." It explicitly states that Vermonters have a "fundamental right" to reproductive services — and a "fundamental right" to give birth or seek an abortion. Also, Judiciary removed a provision that read, "A fertilized egg, embryo, or fetus shall not have independent rights under Vermont law."
Rep. Selene Colburn (P/D-Burlington), a cofounder of the advocacy group Vermont Access to Reproductive Freedom, said decisions on abortion should be made between a woman and her doctor. "I've spoken to hundreds of women facing this choice," she told the committee. "What I learned is how unique each person's circumstances are. This bill preserves the right to choose."
Before the final vote, Burditt delivered some impassioned remarks. "This is the toughest vote I've had in my nine years in the legislature," the Rutland Republican said. "The people I hang out with politically are dead set against this bill." He added that he wouldn't have voted for the Human Services version of H.57, but "it's not the same bill anymore."
Burditt added that he wasn't sure how he would vote on the House floor, but "today I'm voting 'yes.'" Asked after the hearing what might influence his decision on the floor, he said, "More thought, I guess. It'll all be between the ears. I think I've heard everything I can."
The bill is scheduled to go before the full House next week.