By Guy Page
For the second time in less than two weeks, the Vermont Statehouse will be filled with Vermonters with passionate views on House Bill 57, which would set unrestricted abortion in legal stone law and deny any individual rights for the human fetus throughout pregnancy.
On Jan. 26, Vermont Right to Life’s ‘Rally for Life’ filled the Statehouse’s most spacious hall with hundreds of H.57 opponents. Next week, the House Human Services and Judiciary committees will hold a formal public hearing on H.57. The hearing is scheduled for 4:30-6:30 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 6 at the Statehouse. All Vermonters are welcome to attend and testify.
For information about the event format or to submit written testimony, contact the House Committee on Human Services at 802-828-2265 or email Julie Tucker at email@example.com. Witnesses may begin signing up to speak at 4 p.m., just prior to the hearing. Witness testimony is limited to two minutes per person. The committees also will accept written testimony. For accommodations to participate, contact Ms. Tucker by Feb. 1.
The Human Services Committee has been hearing testimony on H.57 for more than a week, and is likely to vote on the bill after Feb. 6. Judiciary is then likely to take up the bill. If H.57 receives an affirmative vote in every committee that studies it, the bill will go to the full House.
For Vermonters who cannot attend, or who wish to contact legislators by phone or email, the Legislative Website offers the following contact info for members of both committees:
|Jessica Brumsted||Shelburne||Jbrumsted@leg.state.vt.us||Human Services|
|James Gregoire||Fairfieldfirstname.lastname@example.org||Human Services|
|Sandy Haas||Rochesteremail@example.com||Human Services|
|Francis McFaun||Barre Townfirstname.lastname@example.org||Human Services|
|Logan Nicoll||Ludlowemail@example.com||Human Services|
|Daniel Noyes||Wolcottfirstname.lastname@example.org||Human Services|
|Kelly Pajala||Londonderry||Kpajala@leg.state.vt.us||Human Services|
|Ann Pugh||S. Burlingtonemail@example.com||Human Services|
|Marybeth Redmond||Essex Junctionfirstname.lastname@example.org||Human Services|
|Carl Rosenquist||Georgiaemail@example.com||Human Services|
|Theresa Wood||Waterbury, Boltonfirstname.lastname@example.org||Human Services|
|Kevin “Coach” Christie||Hartland||Kchristie@leg.state.vt.us||Judiciary|
|Kimberly Jessup||E. Montpelieremail@example.com||Judiciary|
|Martin LaLonde||S. Burlingtonfirstname.lastname@example.org||Judiciary|
|Patrick Seymour||Sutton, Lyndon, Burke||Pseymour@leg.state.vt.us||Judiciary|
|William Notte||Rutland City||Wnotte@leg.state.vt.us||Judiciary|
On Wednesday, critics of H.57 took aim at the bill before the Human Services Committee.
The State of Vermont may legally define a viable fetus as human. Sharon Toborg, of Vermont Right to Life, described how two separate Vermont court decisions “indicated that the Legislature is free to amend Vermont law to extend the definition of person to include a viable fetus. Numerous states have enacted some form of Fetal Homicide legislation. Vermont has not, but that does not mean it cannot.”
Most Vermonters and other Americans oppose unrestricted abortion. A 2000 poll shows that while 59 percent of Vermonters described themselves as ‘pro-choice’, “only 11 percent said abortion should always be legal,” Ms. Toborg said. Even accounting for shifting opinions since 2000, such a low figure strongly suggests that H.57 is out of the mainstream of public opinion. A May 2018 Gallup poll “found that 48% of Americans consider themselves pro-choice, but only 13% said abortion should be generally legal in the last three months of pregnancy,” Ms. Toborg said.
H.57 does not protect women being coerced into an abortion. Pete Gummere, a St. Johnsbury hospital retiree and medical ethicist, told the committee:
“I have a very serious concern for women who are coerced into having an abortion by a boyfriend or other person. In two cases during my last job prior to retirement, I was called upon, as a manager, to protect women from very real threats by boyfriends who simply did not want to pay more child support. In one case, a boyfriend was on-site at the place of employment and actually started to punch the woman in the abdomen, apparently to precipitate an abortion. In another case, a boyfriend assured the young woman that she “would never deliver that baby alive.” A third incident I know through family connections, a young woman was slammed to the floor by her boyfriend; she hit her head and several years later still bears evidence of the injury she sustained at the time. If we are going to protect a legal right to an abortion, should we not also do something to protect women from coercion?”
H.57 should but does not require providers’ full disclosure of details and consequences of abortion as a surgical procedure. Educator Annisa Lamberton of Middletown Springs said:
“H-57 fails women, as it provides no protection for a woman’s right to information and full disclosure of each woman’s specific abortion procedure, risks, and available diagnostic options. The surgery for a broken ankle would require a 1) a doctor (not a PA or NP), 2) showing a woman a visual/x-ray, 3) explaining the size, location, and age of the break, 4) disclosing risks of the surgery and the long-term repercussions, and 5) showing the woman a visual of the treatment area after the surgery is complete.” Ms. Lamberton said her own experience with an abortion provider failed each of these precautions.
H.57 would allow a Gosnell-friendly regulatory environment. Attorney Catherine-Glenn Foster of Americans United for Life said:
“The Act could reasonably be interpreted to prohibit any regulation of doctors who perform abortions or abortion facilities that could be considered any form of restriction on the practice of abortion, even common-sense health and safety measures. The Act thereby engenders a regulatory regime that is akin to the one in Pennsylvania that allowed the infamous abortionist Kermit Gosnell to operate his “House of Horrors” for decades. Gosnell, who was ultimately convicted of involuntary manslaughter, was able to perform unsafe, unsanitary, and deadly abortions for so many years because, according to the Grand Jury report, the Pennsylvania Department of Health thought it could not inspect or regulate abortion facilities because that would interfere with access to abortion.”
Statehouse Headliners is intended primarily to educate, not advocate. It is e-mailed to an ever-growing list of interested Vermonters, public officials and media. Guy Page is affiliated with the Vermont Energy Partnership; the Vermont Alliance for Ethical Healthcare; and Physicians, Families and Friends for a Better Vermont.