U.S. legislatures set to act on abortion rights
MONTPELIER, Vermont – At the start of the new year, the Vermont House of Representatives is due to begin debate on an amendment that would enshrine the right to abortion in the state constitution and send the issue to voters in the fall.
Because the process began two years ago, it’s a coincidence that Vermont lawmakers are considering the Reproductive Freedom Amendment as the U.S. Supreme Court considers a case that could seriously erode an existing right. for half a century.
The pending ruling in the case, expected in mid-2022, means it’s not just Vermont with abortion on the legislative agenda. State legislatures across the country will react to the possibility of a radical change in the Roe v. Wade of 1973 that abortion legalized in US Republican-led legislatures is poised to further restrict or outright ban abortions while Democrat-led ones seek to ensure access to abortion in their legislation national.
Supporters of the proposed Vermont amendment had the possible loss of Roe in mind when they began the process in 2019 to enshrine “reproductive autonomy,” including abortion, into the constitution.
“In my mind, there should be no doubt about Vermont’s position with respect to its core values and fundamental rights,” said Democratic State Representative Ann Pugh, who chairs the committee that will hold hearings. on the proposal from January. “And for these rights, responsibilities and values to be more definitively protected, they must be enshrined in the constitution of our state.” “
A very different approach is being considered in Kansas. Republican state lawmakers submitted in the August 2022 state primary ballot a proposed constitutional amendment that would overturn a 2019 state Supreme Court ruling. The ruling declared access to the abortion a “fundamental right” and part of a woman’s inherent right to bodily autonomy.
The amendment would say that the state’s constitution does not provide for any right to abortion and that the legislature can regulate it as lawmakers see fit – meaning that if Roe v. Wade is canceled, Kansas lawmakers could ban abortion altogether.
In California, lawmakers are expected to consider a plan in the coming year to make the state a “sanctuary” for those seeking reproductive care. This could include paying for travel, accommodation, and procedures for people from other states where abortions have been restricted or perhaps prohibited.
“Abortion has always been controversial,” said Mary Hahn Beerworth, of the Vermont Right to Life Committee, which opposes the Vermont amendment on abortion rights. “In every state legislature across the country, in every political election, abortion peaks. It is one of the most salient problems of our time.
According to the Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive rights think tank, at least 20 states, mostly in the South and Midwest, already have laws that would severely restrict or ban abortion if the High Court overturns Roe and leaves the matter to the public. States.
Earlier this year, Republican lawmakers in at least half a dozen states said they planned to introduce legislation modeled after a new Texas law that effectively bans abortion around six weeks after conception. . The law is drafted in such a way as to circumvent federal courts by leaving enforcement to individuals rather than the state. They hope this will pave the way for implementing the kind of abortion crackdown they have been seeking for years.
In Mississippi, Republican State Senator Chris McDaniel said earlier this year that he would “absolutely” consider introducing legislation to match Texas law after a heavily divided United States Supreme Court ruled out. left that law in effect, at least for now.
“I think most of the conservative southern states will look at this court inaction and maybe see it as a chance to move forward on this issue,” he said.
More than a dozen states, as well as the District of Columbia, have legal protections in place for the right to abortion, said Elizabeth Nash, state policy analyst at the Guttmacher Institute. This includes Massachusetts, where Democrats who control the legislature earlier this year approved a veto bill from Republican Gov. Charlie Baker codifying abortion rights into state law.
Yet even in California, which has already adopted several measures to protect access to abortion, a pro-choice group has identified 45 steps that could be taken to further protect these rights.
“There is a lot of work to be done to consolidate rights and access to abortion,” Nash said.
Efforts to further restrict access do not come only from the more traditionally conservative regions of the country. The state budget, New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu, a Republican, signed in June, contains a provision banning abortion after 24 weeks gestation, with exceptions for the life or physical health of the mother. It takes effect on January 1, just before the start of the new legislative session.
And Republican lawmakers, who control the New Hampshire legislature, are drafting several abortion-related bills, including one that would ban the procedure after a fetal heartbeat is detected. Another would allow the biological father of an unborn child to seek a court order prohibiting a woman from having an abortion. A third would repeal the ban on staying on a sidewalk adjacent to an abortion clinic.
Nash said a handful of states have interpreted their constitutions as protecting abortion rights, but Democrats in Vermont want to be sure.
The proposed amendment does not contain the word “abortion”. Supporters say this is because it is not intended to only allow abortion, but would also guarantee other reproductive rights such as the right to get pregnant or have access to birth control.
“There is a lot of support for this in the legislature,” said Lucy Leriche of Planned Parenthood of Northern New England. “I think the reason seems pretty clear to me at the moment. We have had this right to reproductive freedom for almost half a century, and people don’t want to see us go back.
Harry Reid, former Senate Majority Leader known as a fighter and negotiator