Earlier this week I joined the governor and a handful of legislators for the signing of H.620, the Access to Birth Control bill. It’s a law that expands birth control and family planning options for women and for men. When I wrote about the Access to Birth Control bill back in April, I didn’t foresee the onslaught on reproductive rights May would bring.
Standing on the State House steps Monday, I had a flashback to 1992. That year I took a leave of absence from Senator Leahy’s office in D.C. and moved to central VT to organize volunteers for the Clinton and Leahy campaigns. One event I vividly remember took place on a rainy October
Saturday on the State House lawn when people came out for a Planned Parenthood/NARAL rally. People were angry…and scared. All the progress that had been made on women’s reproductive rights issues in the previous two decades hung in the balance in that election. We had just gone through the Clarence Thomas/Anita Hill hearings. Presidents Bush and Reagan had appointed six justices in the previous twelve years. Thankfully, President Clinton appointed Justices Ginsburg and Breyer, and now we have Justices Sotomayor and Kagan. These four justices serve as the firewall keeping Roe v. Wade intact.
Last week started with the Supreme Court declining to rule on a case which sought to overturn the Affordable Care Act’s mandate that health plans offer contraceptives. Deadlocked on the issue of reproductive rights, the Supreme Court is in a holding pattern waiting for a ninth justice. Last Wednesday, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump released his list of 11 prospective Supreme Court nominees, a group roundly cheered by conservatives. At the top of his list is William Pryor, who has called Roe v. Wade “the worst abomination in the history of constitutional law.” Last Thursday, the Oklahoma state legislature passed a first-in-the-nation bill making it a felony for a health care provider to perform an abortion. Then on Friday, Louisiana became the sixth state in the nation to require that a woman seeking an abortion endure a 72 hour waiting period. (And lest we think we are insulated from this assault in northern New England, it was only nine months ago that New Hampshire’s Executive Council voted to defund Planned Parenthood.)
One of the provisions we tucked into H.620 says that regardless of the policy genuflections in Washington, whatever Congress might try to do in rolling back Obamacare, health insurance policies in Vermont must cover contraception. Full stop. While it’s tragically not true in some states, in Vermont, families can confidently plan and space their pregnancies.
It’s disheartening that we’re decades into this battle – 1973, 1992, 2016. When you’re thinking about your next governor, you might inquire whether they’d sign a bill like H.620, or not. When you’re thinking about a Donald Trump presidency, remember the 2+ Supreme Court Justices he’d appoint. Elections matter. A lot.
Above: sign from the 1992 campaign signed by Leahy volunteers.
Right: with Meagan Gallagher (center), President of Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, and Rep. Ann Pugh the primary sponsor of H.620.