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Vermont’s radical quest for “reproductive autonomy”

Erin Hawley | The state’s proposed constitutional amendment could go far beyond abortion rights


Pro-abortion protesters gathered in Pliny Park in Brattleboro, Vt., on Dec. 1, the day the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments in the Dobbs case. Associated Press/Photo by Kristopher Radder/Brattleboro Reformer

Vermont’s radical quest for “reproductive autonomy”

Last week, Vermont lawmakers voted to move forward with Proposition 5, a ballot initiative that would make Vermont the first state to add an unrestricted right to abortion (and who knows what else) to the state’s constitution. Pro-life advocates have until November to convince Vermont voters that it’s a bad idea to mirror the abortion policies of countries like China and North Korea.

Proposition 5 states 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.

The proposed constitutional amendment could not be more vague—even if its intent could not be more clear. It’s anyone’s guess what “personal reproductive autonomy” means. The Vermont Supreme Court would likely interpret the provision broadly to include abortion at any stage of pregnancy and for any reason.

But there’s even more at stake. Vermont already has one of the most pro-abortion laws in the United States. In fact, the state does not have any major restriction on abortion. Abortion is legal, for any reason, all nine months of pregnancy—even up until a woman goes into labor. Vermont does not impose a waiting period, allows minor children to make the decision without parental input, and allows taxpayer dollars to fund abortion.

The horror that is Vermont’s abortion law shows the radical nature of Roe v. Wade. Roe imposes no limits on abortion—none. While that Supreme Court case mandates nationwide abortions up until viability, around 22 weeks gestational age, it allows states like Vermont, New York, and California to enact abortion laws that provide less protection to unborn life than almost any nation on the planet.

The vast majority of countries in the world prohibit elective abortions after the first trimester. Vermont is an extreme outlier. Denmark, Norway, and France have more conservative abortion laws.

Given that Vermont can’t get any more permissive on abortion, why all the effort to pass Proposition 5? There are clues in its text.

Central to Proposition 5’s notion of abortion is the idea that self-fulfillment, that “one’s own life course” is what matters most. That is a cramped view of humanity. Psychology confirms what the Bible states, “It is more blessed to give than receive” (Acts 20:35). Indeed, even Roe acknowledged that “the pregnant woman cannot be isolated in her privacy.” This is because there are two lives at stake. Two liberty and dignity interests. And yet Vermont and states with similar abortion laws discount entirely the life of the unborn child. He or she has no right to liberty or dignity, no right to life at all.

Yet with the advent of 4D ultrasounds, there is no denying what has always been true, that as Psalm 139 puts it, God “knitted me together in my mother’s womb,” and that a baby is alive and fully human at every stage of pregnancy.

Given that Vermont can’t get any more permissive on abortion, why all the effort to pass Proposition 5? There are clues in its text. Reminiscent of the American Civil Liberties Union’s blue-penciling of the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s words, Proposition 5 does not mention the word “woman” or “abortion” at all. Rather, “individuals” are guaranteed “reproductive autonomy.”

Do men have a constitutional right to reproductive autonomy allowing them to refuse child support for a son or daughter whose mother declined an abortion? Does reproductive autonomy grant a constitutional right for minors to receive hormone or gender-modification surgery at taxpayer expense and without parental consent? Do biological men have a constitutional right to a uterus transplant so that they may have a child? Does reproductive autonomy give parents the constitutional right to genetic engineer their child? All of this and more are possible.

Vermont’s proposed constitutional amendment should be a wake-up call to pro-life believers: Overturning Roe is when the work really begins. The Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization will not require states to protect life. Thus, we fight not merely to win a court case, but to move the heart of our nation.

As Christians who believe that every life is valuable to God, we must work to support both women and their children, not just at birth, but throughout their lives, as we come together to show the country, state by state, that every life matters because every life is valuable to God. We must create and sustain a culture of life. We must make America a place where life is not just protected in law but celebrated and welcomed by us all.


Erin Hawley

Erin Hawley is a wife, mom of three, senior counsel at Alliance Defending Freedom, and former law professor.

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