MONTPELIER — Though many in the House chamber Wednesday wore pink shirts printed with “I Stand with Planned Parenthood,” or stickers that stated, “Support Prop 5,” they were outnumbered by the buttons on lapels and pockets that read “Life Is Precious,” above an image of a red rose.
Proposition 5 would add Article 22: Personal Reproductive Liberty, to the Vermont Constitution, securing “an individual’s right to personal, reproductive autonomy.” The proposed constitutional amendment passed in the Senate earlier this month.
To continue the process of amending the Constitution, it must now be approved by a majority in the House.
The proposal would then have to be approved by the Legislature elected in 2020 and, if approved a second time, go before voters in a statewide referendum.
The first to speak at Wednesday’s public hearing was 11-year-old Roland Laverty.
“I think no one should be aborted,” Laverty said. “My teachers tell me to stand up for what I believe in. They tell me the words that I use matter. Sometimes people call babies fetuses. They’re still babies.”
Lisa Laverty said it was the mother’s rights that were being taken away. She recounted when she found out her son, Gus, had Down Syndrome and she was offered the opportunity to abort the pregnancy by her obstetrician.
“One moment, my baby was valued,” Laverty said. “The next — worthless … and I got to choose. I’d like to know — who was there protecting my reproductive freedom? … My government told me it’s OK to take my baby’s life. How was I free that day? … My doctor and my government failed me by giving me a choice that was no choice.”
Michelle Faye explained pregnancy often can be used as a form of control by abusive partners, while Thomas Kelley called for the consideration of “pure and unborn human beings” and the “preservation of potential life.”
Many cited how birth control, or contraceptives, allowed them to pursue their professional and educational prospects, which in turn allowed for their family later on to have more options and better income.
“I’m asking for the same rights that any woman before me would have,” said supporter Katie Michael.
Nurse Kathleen Grange proposed the reproductive rights attributed to the mother and the father also might apply to those of the pregnancy, which presented another moral dilemma: whose rights are more important?
“If a woman is pregnant and wants to deliver her baby, but the man doesn’t want the child to be born, whose individual right to personal reproductive autonomy prevails?” she said. “Abortion is forever. A baby is murdered in the womb.”
Chloe White, of the American Civil Liberties Union, warned of the threat against women’s reproductive rights by what she deemed a right-leaning Supreme Court. Supporters argued that the proposition would not force a woman to have any procedure done, but instead would give women the freedom to make the final decision regarding her health and body if she should choose to.
Lynn Caulfield referenced a video where children who had been separated from their parents after crossing the southern border could be heard crying, and asked if a similar recording of the cries of fetuses that had been aborted would warrant an outcry.
“Would there be anyone … who would give voice to those cries which have been silenced?” Caulfield asked.
Opponents of the proposition suggested abstinence as a solution. Pastor Michael Rumshard called abortion a sin, and spoke about the possibility of repentance.
“If you do not want to be pregnant, you should not have sex,” said Lynn Pike.
Hunter Hadenberg said, as a young public school teacher, she would not be willing to live in a state that doesn’t value her health and safety.
Howard Jaentschke retold the story of how, 17 years ago, he begged his wife not to have an abortion, and celebrates the relationship he now has with his daughter.
“I rescued a baby from an abortion clinic,” Jaentschke said. “If I was not there to speak for the child, who could not say any words, today she would not be a part of this beautiful world.”
“Ending legal abortions won’t stop abortions,” said Bailey Grebbin.
Nurse Kathleen Lynch said abortion training was not a part of her national nursing training, and believes that life begins at conception.
“Why is my workplace expected to accommodate death as a goal?” Lynch asked. “These cases cause disruption in patient care throughout the operating room.”