Vermont voters made history in 2022 by passing Proposal 5, the Reproductive Liberty Amendment. This amendment codified reproductive autonomy as a constitutional right for everyone in Vermont, enshrining the strongest possible protection for reproductive rights in our state constitution.
But this is just the beginning of our work to secure reproductive justice and bodily autonomy for all. As politicians across the county move to severely restrict access to essential reproductive and gender-affirming health care services, some will attempt to criminalize care provided across state lines and enable frivolous and abusive civil litigation.
In response, states like Connecticut and Massachusetts have advanced “shield laws” to protect providers and patients who administer or receive health care services that are legal within the state.
The Vermont legislature is working to pass similar bills this year. H.89 and S.37 would function through several legal mechanisms. They include enabling “claw back” lawsuits, protecting patients’ and providers’ personal information, safeguarding providers’ ability to practice medicine when offering legally protected health care, and prohibiting Vermont officials from assisting another state in pursuing criminal or civil liability for providers.
Urge your legislators to protect essential health care
Under H.89 and S.37, legally protected health care activity is defined as any reproductive and gender-affirming care that is legal in the state of Vermont and is being provided by a licensed professional. It would not include protection for care that violates our antidiscrimination laws, or services that are below applicable professional standards.
Understanding H.89 and S.37
Vermont’s proposed shield laws contain several provisions that would help protect providers and patients who participate in legally protected health care activity, such as:
“Claw back” lawsuits
If someone is the subject of abusive litigation from another state—that is, a frivolous lawsuit solely designed to deter, prevent, or punish someone for engaging in legally protected health care activity—H.89 would ensure that the person being sued is able to counter-sue to recover damages and attorney’s fees. These are called claw back lawsuits.
Protection of medical information
H.89 and S.37 would ensure that courts cannot order a person in Vermont to testify or produce documents in a court proceeding related to abusive litigation of legally protected health care activity. This goes above and beyond existing HIPAA protections and strengthens patients’ and providers’ right to privacy.
Non-cooperation by government officials
Under H.89, no public agency, employee, or official could participate in an interstate investigation or proceeding seeking to impose civil or criminal liability on someone for participating in legally protected gender-affirming or reproductive health care.
Furthermore, no one could be arrested or extradited to another state for seeking or providing legally protected health care services, unless the state alleges that the accused was physically present in their state when services were rendered and then fled the state.
Protecting providers’ ability to practice medicine
S.37 contains a number of provisions that would help protect medical professionals from unjust professional discipline or unreasonable malpractice insurance hikes for providing legal reproductive or gender-affirming health care services.
Patients and providers deserve to seek, access, and deliver reproductive and gender-affirming health care without fear or shame. Legislators need to hear from their constituents that H.89 and S.37 represent the next key step in securing reproductive justice and bodily autonomy for all.
Contact your legislator today and urge them to support shield laws to protect access to essential health care in Vermont.