By Bob Orleck
Vermont abortion law, as far as Vermont’s House of Representatives is concerned, is fixed in H.57. The bill passed by a vote of 106 to 36 to affirm the practice into statutory law that unrestricted abortion is legal. There is nothing that would restrict who performs abortions, or what qualifications they have. There is nothing to insure the safety of the patients through regulation or inspection of an abortion facility. There is nothing that would prevent an abortion up to delivery to be done on a full-term healthy baby, and there is nothing to limit such an abortion even if there is no risk to the life of the mother.
The bill now goes to the Senate where it will likely meet little resistance. It also seems likely there will be an attempt started there to introduce a constitutional amendment to further cement unrestricted abortion as unassailable in Vermont. Hopefully, the reticence of the governor to take a position at this point on whether to sign H.57 into law means something. That would cause the Senate to rethink some of the provisions of H.57 that would even be supported by the most pro-choice people in the state.
H.57 currently reads that “no State or local law enforcement shall prosecute any individual for inducing, performing, or attempting to induce or perform the individual’s own abortion.” Call it an oversight, but legislative malpractice should not be countenanced when health and life are at stake. The question then becomes, should current practice now affirmed in this language of H.57 be allowed to go forward, or is there enough reason for the Senate to work a change that, if not done, would be enough reason for Gov. Phil Scott to veto the bill?
Dr. Ira Bernstein, the chair of obstetrics and gynecology at UVM, was interviewed about the abortion services provided at Vermont’s largest hospital, but little he said addressed what will be a real and present danger should H.57 be embedded into Vermont statutes. For UVM, nothing in H.57 will change anything they are doing under current practice to review possible abortions with physicians and ethicists post 23 weeks.
It is not what is happening at UVM that has caused the outrage seen in the public and echoed by Republican House members; instead, it is what might happen if other abortion providers come to Vermont and establish their get-rich-quick abortion practice free of any rules or regulations on who or under what conditions they can operate.
Over and over it was heard in the debate that third-term abortions up to the time of delivery will not happen even with passage of H.57. Unsubstantiated claims were made that physicians engaging in the abortion of a second- or third-trimester fetus that is healthy — and there is no real danger to the health or life of the mother — would be met with disciplinary and legal repercussions, and so this would never ever happen. They say it didn’t happen under current practice and it will never happen with passage of H.57. During the debate, state Rep. Ann Donahue, R-Northfield, addressed that claim when she testified that “I find it a little unique that we would choose to make something legal in law because it won’t ever happen.” A very wise and insightful observation indeed. Dr. Bernstein spoke to the “never” claim, saying that “while unlikely to do so,” UVM providers “almost never do the third-trimester terminations at this institution.” Notice he said “almost never.” Abortionists operating free of the moral restrictions of UVM will not be bound by the promise by lawmakers of “never.”
Many physicians hold the belief that there can be no medical necessity to do second- and third-term abortions even to save the life of the mother. Of course, they need to take the steps necessary to save the mother’s life, and in doing so the fetus may not survive, but the goal should be to save not only the mother but also save the life of the viable fetus. One only needs to have a limited understanding of the procedure involved in second- and third-term abortions to realize that in a life threatening situation where the pregnancy must be terminated for the protection of the life of the mother, the most efficient, safe and available way to end that pregnancy is by an induced live delivery or by an emergency C-section that can be done in as little as two minutes time — and both patients live.
Full term abortions require days to accomplish, first having to ensure the fetus is killed, followed by preparing the woman’s body for delivery, and in many cases the dismemberment and removal of body parts with forceps — all of which increase the dangers to the mother’s life and health.
That abortions happen at the hospital is wrong for many pro-life people, but what happens at UVM is not the clear and present danger that many see in H.57. No doubt the abuses represented by Kermit Gosnell and other unregulated abortion practitioners who did unspeakable acts would never happen at UVM. While that is so, the reality is that H.57 could encourage a disreputable practitioner in search of a lucrative and legally sheltered business to come to Vermont.
That possibility dictates a mandatory need for simple change in the language of H.57 to prevent unqualified practitioners in unregulated facilities from setting up abortion services for a population who might not be likely to use facilities and physicians such as those at UVM. Those included in that population would include vulnerable, pressured, drug-addicted, abused young girls and women, or perhaps victims of human trafficking or those wishing to engage in the sale of fetal body parts. Vermont has a duty to protect such vulnerable people and their viable fetuses.
If this needed fix does not happen, then the pro-choice governor of Vermont would not only be justified but compelled to veto the legislation.
Bob Orleck is a retired pharmacist and former Vermont assistant attorney general. He lives in Randolph.