Working for Senator Leahy in the early-1990s, I remember the alarm triggered when William Brennan retired from the Supreme Court and then a year later when Thurgood Marshall announced his retirement. These were two liberal pillars of the Supreme Court who had served for decades. With President Bush appointing their successors, and with the Court having already swung to the right from President Reagan’s appointments, Roe v. Wade seemed on the verge of being overturned.
Yet Roe survived. With the announcement of the Planned Parenthood v. Casey decision in June 1992, a constitutional right to an abortion was upheld – albeit by the slimmest of margins. The primary author of the opinion was a Reagan appointee: Justice Anthony Kennedy.
Alarm bells started ringing again this summer when Justice Kennedy announced his retirement from the Court. President Trump upheld his campaign promise to nominate justices who would overturn Roe by putting forth Brett Kavanaugh to be Kennedy’s successor. The right to an abortion and the 1973 precedent established in Roe v. Wade are once again in grave danger.
If the Supreme Court overturns the Roe v. Wade decision, the impact of that reversal will vary greatly from state to state. Critical to understanding Roe, and its subsequent upholding in the Planned Parenthood decision, is that both decisions were based on the protections of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. As Justice Kennedy wrote in his Planned Parenthood opinion, “matters involving the most intimate and personal choices a person may make in a lifetime, choices central to personal dignity and autonomy, are central to the liberty protected by the Fourteenth Amendment.” Fundamentally, the 14th Amendment protects citizens from deprivation of “life, liberty, or property” by “the state wherein they reside” whether that state be Colorado, Delaware, Texas, Vermont or any other. Roe essentially says that a state may not prohibit abortion. A reversal of Roe likely wouldn’t prohibit abortion at the national level, but it would allow individual states to enact such a prohibition.
Vermont legalized abortion in 1972 through a Vermont Supreme Court decision (Beecham v. Leahy) that overturned an 1846 statute. (As a historical footnote, Patrick Leahy, then Chittenden County State’s Attorney, and Jim Jeffords, then Vermont Attorney General, played important roles in the case.) Today there are no laws in Vermont restricting access to abortion care, such as waiting periods or parental notification. And while federal Medicaid funding cannot be used to pay for abortions, Vermont is one of 17 states that provides state funds to pay for a Medicaid patient’s abortion.
In contrast to Vermont’s strong support for abortion rights, women in other states are far more vulnerable. In the event Roe is overturned, there are nine states that have pre-Roe abortion bans that would spring back into effect, four states that have “trigger laws” that will automatically outlaw abortion, and five states that have indicated they will move to ban abortion. Since the 1973 decision, several states have constructed a lattice work of regulation limiting whether, when, and under what circumstances a woman may obtain an abortion.
As a member of the Reproductive Freedom Leadership Council, a group of state legislators across the country advocating for reproductive health rights, I am engaged in finding ways Vermont can fortify abortion access in light of possible threats to that right from U.S. Supreme Court. I was a sponsor of Act 120, a measure to increase access to birth control, the best way to lower the number of unintended pregnancies. This year, the legislature passed and the governor signed into law legislation to increase access to long acting reversible contraception (LARCs).
It is a deeply personal decision of whether, when, and how to become a parent. All women should have the right to plan and space their pregnancies. All women should have access to safe, timely, and affordable reproductive care without shame, stigma or threat. There is no place for political interference in this decision process.
I am hopeful, though not optimistic, that the confirmation of Judge Kavanaugh can be delayed until after the mid-term elections in November. The prospect of Democrats winning control of the U.S. Senate and demanding the seating of a justice who will preserve the 45-year old precedent established in Roe v. Wade means that a fight to delay is a battle worth fighting.
The Brian Cook Band (Brian, Katie Bucci, and Chris Trimble) put on a great Father's Day show at the Norwich Women's Club concert on the Green. Lots of people there to enjoy the music including a young girl who brought her two goats on a leash.
Alexis Jetter, Sherry Merrick, Annelise Orleck, Robin Junker-Boyce and others brought together a packed house June 20th at the Thetford Congregational Church to discuss the Trump Administration's forcible separation of immigrant children from their parents. People are pissed. Peter Welch joined us by phone to share his first hand account of what's happening at the border.
Alexis further organized a group of us to share information with passengers who come through White River Junction by train or bus. Because WRJ is within 100 miles of the Canadian border, Border Patrol agents may board trains or buses to interview travelers regarding their citizenship. Many folks don't know their rights when they are approached by an ICE or Border Patrol agent. "An informed citizenry is at the heart of a dynamic democracy." (Thomas Jefferson)
Mid-July is time for the Fair and the Parade in Norwich. This year Jim and I marched in the parade alongside the Norwich Fire Department with the indefatigable "Mr. Bill," the Marion Cross School's unicycling principal circling the parade.
Of course, Jim and I also spent time in the dunk tank, by tradition filled with 54-degree water. This year I counted: 27 dunks in 30 minutes!