MONTPELIER — The House Human Services Committee on Wednesday heard from more than a handful of speakers about H.57, an extreme abortion bill that would guarantee a “fundamental right” to abortion up to the moment of a child’s birth.
Legislative counsel Brynn Hare, in a Jan. 27 memorandum addressed to the committee, explained that Roe v. Wade, the landmark decision that legalized abortion nationwide in 1973, may soon be “invalidated or otherwise undermined by the U.S. Supreme Court,” sending the issue back to the states.
“This would result in a patchwork of different regulations across the states, and an individual’s ability to access abortion services would depend on the state in which the individual lives. Depending on the scope of such a ruling, states may be free to regulate abortion or prohibit it altogether,” Hare’s memorandum states.
Against that backdrop, the 11-member committee proceeded to take testimony on a bill similar to one passed this month in New York. That bill, signed last week by Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo, allows pregnancies to be exterminated until the moment of birth. By contrast, Roe v. Wade allows abortions only up to the point of a developing baby’s “viability,” or survivability, outside the womb — about 22 to 24 weeks of pregnancy.
Among the voices in the committee room speaking from a pro-life perspective was Sharon Toborg, treasurer for Vermont Right to Life. She said H.57’s lack of standards for the abortion procedure allows for some disturbing possibilities for babies.
“While Dr. McAfee in her testimony last week indicated that she always makes sure to kill the fetus in the utero by injecting it with a drug to stop the heartbeat, or by clamping the cord, which causes the baby to suffocate, this committee needs to be aware that this does not always work, nor do all abortionists follow her procedures,” Toborg said.
“And of course, if this legislation were to become law, an abortionist could not be required to follow her procedures,” she said.
Toborg also took issue with the “born alive” rule. This rule was established in 1988, when the Vermont District Court ruled that Edward Ramcke couldn’t be charged with manslaughter for killing his pregnant wife’s unborn child after he kicked her in the abdomen. Under Vermont law, and reiterated in H.57, “A fertilized egg, embryo, or fetus shall not have independent rights under Vermont law.”
This question of when independent rights are granted to a person was again brought up on Wednesday when Patricia Blair, mother of the “Bennington Babies,” dialed in to the committee meeting by phone to recount how in 2010 a drugged driver crashed into her car head-on, killing her unborn twins during the sixth month of pregnancy. While both babies were killed, the driver was not charged with manslaughter.
According to Hare, Vermont follows “the common rule that a person has to be born alive in order to be considered of personhood status under Vermont’s criminal statutes.”
Cary Brown, executive director of the Vermont Commission on Women, advocated in favor of the bill. She argued that decisions about terminating pregnancies have helped the economic advancement of women.
“The ability to decide when and whether to have a child is one of the most important factors in a woman’s economic well-being over the course of her lifetime,” she said. “Having control over the timing of children allows women to increase their own education, make better investments in their early work and career choices, and create better outcomes for their children.”
Brown continued, “Women’s access to birth control, including abortion, is tied to increased labor force participation, higher earnings, more advanced careers, and better financial conditions for their children and families.”
She added that denying women the right to abortion may lead to dependence on welfare.
“Women who sought an abortion and didn’t receive one were more likely to end up receiving public assistance than women who received the abortions,” she said. “Women who were denied abortions were [more likely] in the future to end up raising children alone, being single-parent households, than women who did receive the abortions.”
Brown’s statement pairing abortion and birth control caught the attention of Rep. Francis “Topper” McFaun, R-Barre Town.
“You used the term ‘birth control,’ and one of the ways that you thought was acceptable as a method of birth control was abortion, am I right?” McFaun asked.
Brown responded, “Well, I think that it falls under the general category of contraception or birth control. It’s one of the ways that people [have for] for controlling where and when they have children.”
Following the meeting, McFaun told True North it’s important for lawmakers to clarify language and terms with regard to abortion bills.
“Some testimony that we’ve had said that abortion is a contraceptive service, so I want it defined in the bill. You can’t make those statements without defining them,” he said. “I don’t personally consider abortion as a contraceptive service, [but] what I consider personally isn’t gonna make any difference. This bill is going to make the difference, that’s why I think it’s important to define it.”
A public hearing on H.57 is scheduled for 4:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 6 in the House chamber of the Vermont Statehouse.