Facing certain House passage of a bill establishing abortion rights in Vermont law, minority Republicans forced an extended debate Wednesday by offering 10 separate amendments and demanding roll call votes on each one. In the end, the bill received preliminary approval by a 104-40 tally.
"It's democracy at work," House Minority Leader Pattie McCoy (R-Poultney) said in explaining the demand for roll calls. "I think our members wanted [roll call votes]. It's a very personal and emotional issue."
Vermont has had no restrictions on abortion since 1972. Supporters of H.57 say that abortion rights must now be protected in law, given the possibility that the U.S. Supreme Court could overturn Roe v. Wade, the 1972 decision establishing abortion rights.
Rep. Carl Rosenquist (R-Georgia) proposed an amendment establishing legal rights for fetuses developed enough to survive outside the womb. "The most underrepresented person or thing in Vermont is a viable fetus," he said in floor debate. "It feels pain, it feels love."
The amendment was defeated on a 106-41 vote, largely along party lines.
Rosenquist and Rep. Bob Bancroft (R-Westford) offered an amendment barring abortions after 24 weeks except in cases where an abortion would be needed "to avert the patient’s death or to avert serious risk of substantial and irreversible physical impairment of a major bodily function." There was no exception for mental impairment. The amendment was defeated 107-40.
Rep. Carl Rosenquist
Bancroft put forward five separate amendments of his own. The first proposed to allow only doctors to perform what he called "surgical abortions," but withdrew the measure after being informed that only doctors and specially trained nurses are currently allowed to perform the procedure.
Bancroft then proposed establishing a 48-hour waiting period before a woman can obtain an abortion. It lost 115-32.
His next amendment would have required parental consent for minors seeking abortions. "Young people are not capable of making informed decisions," Bancroft argued. "I can understand why a teenager might be too embarrassed to tell her parents and might seek an abortion on her own. But we need to weigh the rights of parents."
Rep. David Yacovone (D-Morrisville), a longtime social services professional and former commissioner of the Department for Children and Families, argued against parental notification by citing his own interactions with young victims of incest and the "pain, fear and trauma" that's suffered by "more than we might care to imagine."
The parental consent amendment went down on a 123-24 vote.
Rep. Vicki Strong (R-Albany) proposed an amendment to require that any facility performing abortions be subject to the same regulatory and inspection rules as surgical centers. She billed it as a measure to ensure "the best outcomes for mothers' health and well-being."
Rep. Vicki Strong
Rep. Ann Pugh (D-South Burlington), chair of the House Human Services Committee, countered Strong's argument by noting that "the vast majority of abortions are simple procedures that can be performed safely in an office setting," including large numbers of what she called "medication abortions."
After her amendment was defeated on a 113-33 vote, Strong offered another measure that would require anyone seeking an abortion to receive an ultrasound and then wait 24 hours before having the procedure. The woman would have the option of viewing the ultrasound image and hearing a fetal heartbeat. Strong promoted it as a way to give women the opportunity to make a more fully informed choice.
Rep. Charen Fegard (D-Berkshire) related her own experience receiving an ultrasound, calling it intrusive and "excruciating," comparing it to the pain she imagines men must feel when kicked in the testicles. She argued that women should not be subjected to the procedure unless medically necessary.
The ultrasound amendment was defeated 131-13.
The House then returned to another Bancroft amendment — this one would have banned so-called "partial birth abortions." That drew the closest vote of all, but still failed 101-43.
All the Republican amendments were defeated by veto-proof majorities, which may dash the hopes of abortion opponents that Gov. Phil Scott might veto H.57 and have his veto upheld by the House. Scott has not publicly committed on this bill, although he has repeatedly said that he is pro-choice.
The House must take a final vote Thursday on H.57. More amendments may be offered.
Correction, February 21, 2019: An earlier version of this story misidentified Rep. Bob Bancroft's town of residence.