Proposal 5 is a proposed amendment to the Vermont State Constitution that its supporters say is necessary to protect a woman’s right to an abortion. Unfortunately, it is becoming apparent that the wording of Proposal 5 is so convoluted and vague that it might actually have the opposite impact on a woman’s right to choose and control her own body.
Proposal 5 is being called the “Reproductive Liberty Amendment,” not the “Right to an Abortion” amendment, or the “Women’s Reproductive Rights” amendment because its language does not mention, at all, abortion or women. If you are a woman concerned with abortion rights, this is a problem. Potentially a big one.
Here’s how Proposal 5 reads, “”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.”
This new “right to personal reproductive autonomy,” as opposed to a clear right to an abortion, would apply equally to men as to women, and this could have some significant unintended consequences for women’s rights. The words “abortion” and “woman” are not included in Prop.5, contrary to how it is promoted.
The Vermont House Human Services Committee recently took testimony from an ACLU spokesperson, Indi Schoenherr. She was asked, “What happens if a man’s right to personal reproductive autonomy conflicts with a woman’s regarding the same unborn child? Whose right prevails, and on what legal, constitutional basis under Proposal 5.”
When Schoenherr struggled to answer, committee chair Anne Pugh jumped in and said, “When rights are in conflict, we go to court. And that is the role of the courts to decide, or a judge, or however that is. So, what I’m asking is would I be correct in responding to [the question] to say what you are presenting is a conflict of rights. And where historically this country has gone when there is a conflict of rights is we go to court. Would I be correct in that response?”
To that Schoenherr said, “Yes, that is the correct response.”
And that’s the problem.
Under Roe v. Wade a woman has a right to an abortion during the first trimester of pregnancy that is not in conflict with anyone else’s rights. Under proposal 5, that “right” would potentially be in conflict with the father’s newly minted right to personal reproductive autonomy, and, if so, the woman would have to go to court to sort out that conflict. And, in reading the language of Proposal 5, the woman’s burden might be having to prove there is a “compelling state interest” to justify her abortion.
Although this may not be what the authors of Proposal 5 intended, it is what the women of Vermont will have to live with for a long time if Proposal 5 is ultimately approved and becomes a part of our state constitution. Just so you know.
Annisa Lamberton, Middletown Springs