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Advocates Say Vermont's Abortion Amendment Can Serve as Model


Published November 9, 2022 at 4:29 p.m.

Democrats gathered at Hula Lakeside reacting to news that Proposition 5 passed - JAMES BUCK
  • James Buck
  • Democrats gathered at Hula Lakeside reacting to news that Proposition 5 passed
Some of the advocates who worked to pass Proposition 5, the abortion rights amendment to the Vermont Constitution, are turning their attention now to helping like-minded people in other states try to do something similar.

Vermonters approved Proposition 5, also commonly known as Article 22, on Tuesday by a margin of about 77 percent to 23 percent.

Fresh from that victory on Wednesday morning, a diverse team gathered on Zoom to thank supporters and discuss their plans to share Vermont’s experience in states where the status of abortion rights is uncertain.

"This is the blueprint for other states to follow," said Mia Schultz, president of the Rutland Area Branch of the NAACP.

The amendment, which was four years in the making,  specifies that all individuals have a right to "personal reproductive autonomy" that cannot be "denied or infringed unless justified by a compelling State interest achieved by the least restrictive means."
Vermont is one of five states where a constitutional amendment on abortion was on the ballot on Tuesday. With some votes still being counted, amendments similar to Vermont's also passed by a wide margin in Michigan and California. In Kentucky, voters rejected a proposed amendment that said there is no constitutional right to an abortion in the state. The outcome of voting on a Montana proposal protecting infants — a protection that already exists under federal law — had not yet been determined.

The issue shot to prominence in electoral politics this summer after the U.S. Supreme Court in June eliminated the fundamental right to an abortion established in the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision.

People working to fight abortion restrictions in other states had been getting in touch even before Election Day, said Falko Schilling,  advocacy director at the ACLU of Vermont. He expects to hear from many more now that the amendment has been passed by such a large measure.

“This is something that I think is inspiring to people across the country,” he said. “People might not have thought they had the numbers, but we see time and time again when these issues are on the ballot, voters stand up for protecting these rights.”

Opponents of Proposal 5 plan to keep working as well. Matthew Strong, the executive director of Vermonters for Good Government, a conservative group, said on Tuesday night that he was surprised the proposal passed by such a large margin.

“It’s going to be most likely the most extreme stance in the country, and I think a lot of people haven’t quite grasped that reality yet,” said Strong, who repeatedly warned that Proposal 5 would authorize abortion at any stage in a pregnancy when he campaigned against it earlier this year, which advocates denied. “It would be a situation where there would be no regulation at all.”

Vermont advocates are also talking to their peers elsewhere about protecting health care providers from legal challenges if, for example, they were to perform an abortion for someone who has traveled from a state where the procedure is illegal.

“Other states might try and restrict those rights even beyond their borders,” Schilling said. Lucy Leriche, the vice president of public affairs for the Planned Parenthood of Vermont Action Fund, said Vermont advocates will likely work on laws that would shield those providers.

“We haven’t seen a huge influx of patients coming into Vermont seeking abortion care,” Leriche noted. “I don't necessarily think that Vermont will become a destination for abortion care. But I will say on behalf of Planned Parenthood that we provide care to our patients no matter what, regardless of where they are coming from.”
Ben & Jerry’s worked as part of the coalition that campaigned for Proposal 5. Maroni Minter, the ice cream company’s U.S. activism manager, said women in states with few restrictions on reproductive health care tend to make more money, work more hours and experience more upward mobility in the workforce.

“We all know the right to choose is a moral and economic imperative," Minter said. "We endorsed Article 22 from the beginning."

The issue of abortion rights affects people of all races, genders and backgrounds, he added. 

“We are living in a very polarized climate, but there are a lot of issues that actually unite us as human beings, as citizens,” he said. “The coalition did a good job of sticking to the issue and putting politics aside — and it did resonate with a lot of people.”