We all deserve the freedom to determine the course of our own lives. That includes the right to make decisions like whether and when to become pregnant, use temporary or permanent birth control, or seek abortion care.
This November, Vermont voters will have the opportunity to preserve those rights by passing Proposal 5, the Reproductive Liberty Amendment, which would add Article 22 to our constitution.
Article 22 would ensure that abortion stays legal in Vermont and that patients continue to have access to necessary reproductive care, including when serious complications arise during a pregnancy.
You may have already received your ballot in the mail. If so, give it a look. Proposal 5 asks voters to consider whether Vermont should add Article 22 to the state constitution. It provides: “That an individual’s right to personal reproductive autonomy is central to the liberty and dignity to determine one’s own life course and shall not be denied or infringed unless justified by a compelling State interest achieved by the least restrictive means.”
The part about “compelling State interest achieved by the least restrictive means” refers to a specific legal standard known as the “strict scrutiny test.” This standard provides the strongest possible protection by limiting the government’s ability to infringe on a given right: in this case, the right to reproductive autonomy.
What does that mean, in practice? If Article 22 were enacted and a future Vermont legislature tried to pass a law that restricted our reproductive autonomy–like by limiting our access to abortion or birth control, making procedures like vasectomies illegal, or requiring certain people to undergo forced sterilization–that law would almost certainly be deemed unconstitutional by the Vermont Supreme Court and stopped from going into effect.
With Article 22 in place, the state legislature would need to establish that there was an extremely important reason to enact a law that restricted our reproductive rights. Lawmakers would also need to prove that there was not any other possible way to address that state interest without infringing on our rights. Otherwise, the law would be struck down and our rights would be protected.
Unfortunately, opponents of abortion rights are trying to spread false information about this amendment and the legal standard it establishes. Vermonters should not be fooled. Legislators, advocates, and legal experts carefully designed this amendment to protect our fundamental liberties from attack, and that’s exactly what Proposal 5 does–nothing more, and nothing less.
Following the U.S. Supreme Court’s shameful ruling overturning Roe v. Wade, our most fundamental rights are on the line. Approximately half of the United States could soon ban abortion–forcing countless people to remain pregnant and have children against their will–and criminalize essential health care services.
By ensuring that any future Vermont state laws restricting our reproductive liberty would need to pass the strict scrutiny test, Article 22 offers our best chance at preserving the reproductive rights we rely on today. If the people of Vermont pass Proposal 5 at this critical point in our history, we can help safeguard reproductive health care for current and future generations.
A version of this post was published as an opinion editorial by James Lyall in VTDigger and other outlets.