- File: Daria Bishop
- Protesters at a rally in Burlington
But with half of the country expected to restrict or even outlaw the procedure in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s monumental ruling last week, Vermont and other abortion-friendly states could eventually see an increase in out-of-state patients.
Vermont must prepare for that possibility by establishing a legal "safe harbor" for anyone traveling here for an abortion from a hostile state, the two leading Democratic candidates for attorney general, Charity Clark and Rory Thibault, said on Monday.
They called on state lawmakers to pass bills next legislative session that would shield patients and their doctors from out-of-state lawsuits or prosecution. And they said they would look for ways to protect Vermonters who travel to places with restrictive laws, perhaps for college or vacations.
“We need to create an infrastructure of support for people deprived of the human right to control their own bodies,” Clark said Monday at a press conference on the topic in Winooski.
Her Democratic rival, Rory Thibault, expressed a similar sentiment in a press release. “The time is now to build protections into state law and to take a page from conservative states,” Thibault wrote. “We must be relentless in asserting our values in our policy, statutes, and litigation.”
But the safe harbor proposal is a new one. Other states — including New York and Connecticut — have already passed such laws, while New Jersey's governor is trying to convince lawmakers to support a similar measure there.
Experts aren’t sure whether Vermont will see a large influx of abortion seekers now that Roe has fallen, since the state is surrounded by others where abortion is expected to remain legal.
If there is a spike, though, its effects could be felt well before lawmakers have a chance to bolster legal protections for those patients. Thirteen states had laws on the books that triggered bans as soon as Roe went down, and Vermont's citizen legislature doesn't reconvene for another five months.
Gov. Phil Scott — a pro-choice Republican who has called on Congress to codify legal abortion nationwide — could always bring the legislature back for a special session; he did so last year to allow lawmakers to vote on legislation granting municipalities the authority to impose mask mandates.
At least one lawmaker thinks the abortion ruling could justify the somewhat rare move."This, to me, is more imperative [than the mask debate]," Rep. Emma Mulvaney-Stanak (P/D-Burlington) said at Clark's press conference. She called the high court's ruling a "crisis of a generation" that will put many lives at risk.
Scott, however, isn't likely to bring lawmakers back to the Statehouse this year. In an email, spokesperson Jason Maulucci said Democratic leaders have not approached Scott about a special session and he was "not considering one."
The "feasibility" of any safe harbor proposals should be considered when lawmakers return to Montpelier in January, Maulucci wrote.