Once upon a time, I was young and naïve enough to believe that the abortion fight would become a non-issue in my lifetime. Back then, the solution seemed so obvious. If activists on both sides of the debate simply pooled their resources and worked toward a mutually beneficial goal -- like reducing rape, incest and teen pregnancy, for example -- then the number of abortions performed each year would plummet and everyone could go on their merry way.
Of course, back then I never suspected that our government could be hijacked by religious zealots. Fast forward to 2004, and Attorney General John Ashcroft -- the same man who spent $8000 to hide the "Spirit of Justice" statue's bare boob behind a curtain -- is poking a flashlight into women's privates with Taliban-like effrontery. In February, the Justice Department subpoenaed medical records from at least six hospitals in New York City, Philadelphia, Chicago and Ann Arbor, Michigan to determine if certain medical procedures -- known by proponents as "extraction and dilation" and by opponents as "partial-birth abortion"-- were medically necessary. That procedure was outlawed in November when Bush signed the "Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003." If the Justice Department subpoenas are upheld in court, they would result in one of the most dramatic erosions of a woman's right to doctor-patient confidentiality.
The subpoenas came in the wake of Bush's recent appointment of Charles Pickering to the federal bench. Pickering, an outspoken opponent of the Roe V. Wade decision, was installed in January while Congress was off celebrating the birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr. Weeks later, another handpicked Bush appointee, the head of the Food and Drug Administration, rejected his own advisory committee's recommendation to approve an emergency-contraception drug for over-the-counter sale. That approval has been postponed indefinitely.
Vermont's pro-choice activists aren't the kind of people who cower when reproductive rights come under assault. Last week at a press conference in Burlington City Hall, representatives from NARAL Pro-Choice America, Pro-Choice Vermont and Planned Parenthood of Northern New England threw down the gauntlet and vowed to make abortion rights a central campaign issue in the November races for governor and lieutenant governor.
"During the last election, Governor Douglas did not speak out against these assaults, nor did he make himself clear on how he stood on these human rights issues," said NARAL's Sandy Baird, who is demanding that the governor clarify for voters his stance on abortion rights, including parental notification. Baird and others also took aim at Lieutenant Governor Brian Dubie, who has stated publicly that he supports the overturn of Roe v. Wade.
"Lieutenant Governor Dubie may be called upon to cast a tie-breaking vote [on the abortion issue]," said Cheryl Rivers, a Democrat who is challenging Dubie in November. "If that day comes, I think many Vermonters will be in for a rude awakening." Expect this fight to grow uglier as the November battle lines are drawn.
Speaking of early campaign platforms, Burlington Mayor Peter Clavelle, who announced his bid for governor last month, recently laid out what can only be described as the framework for his statewide energy policy. He addressed a crowd of about 250 people who had come to the Vergennes Opera House to hear about VELCO's proposed transmission-line upgrades through Addison County. Clavelle was asked to speak about Burlington's experiences with energy efficiency, renewable energy and demand-side management. In the process, the mayor took a few swipes at the Douglas administration and likely won supporters among those who oppose the eyesore and EMFs high-voltage wires would bring to their backyards.
Clavelle touted the Queen City's successful investments in energy efficiency, such as the $11.3 million bond issue in 1990 that contributed to Burlington's 5 percent reduction in energy consumption between 1989 and 2002. As Clavelle pointed out, about 40 percent of the electricity consumed in Burlington now comes from renewable sources -- about 95 percent of them located within Vermont. As a result, the average household electricity-bill in Burlington runs about $544 per year, compared to a statewide average of $911. "The cheapest kilowatt," Clavelle told the crowd, "is the one you never use."
But Burlington's mayor didn't drive all the way down to Vergennes to voice his opposition to the Northwest Vermont Reliability Project -- after all, the Burlington Electric Department, which is owned by the city, is also a member of VELCO and has already endorsed the $120 million project. Still, Clavelle emphasized that even if the power lines go up, the Department of Public Service projects that another major upgrade will be needed by 2012. "The choice of having only two choices, either poor reliability or major transmission upgrades, is not acceptable to us," Clavelle told a cheering crowd.
The mayor went on to condemn the Douglas administration's energy policy as "flawed," arguing that it relies too heavily on market forces to shape Vermont's energy policy, and not enough on efficiency, renewables and local generation. Clavelle closed by saying that the rules by which large transmission projects are funded must be changed. Otherwise, he said, Vermont will continue to be looked upon as "the green carpet that you lay the mega extension cord across, feeding electricity from Canada to southern New England and New York."
For an "informational" talk, it was quite the stump speech.