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Reproductive rights defenders march during the Rally for Abortion Justice in Washington, D.C. on October 2, 2021. (Photo: Kisha Bari/Women's March/Twitter)

With Abortion Access in Peril, States Move to Protect Reproductive Rights in 2022

"People are activated and waking up and realizing that this is not something we can take for granted," said one advocate for a Vermont constitutional amendment enshrining abortion rights.

Brett Wilkins

As the future of reproductive rights in the United States is threatened by the U.S. Supreme Court's right-wing supermajority and a wave of anti-choice laws passed by states across the nation, some Democrat-led states are taking proactive steps to safeguard the right to choose in ways that go above and beyond affirmative legislation.

"In my mind, there should be no question where Vermont stands with regard to its core values and fundamental rights... they need to be enshrined in our state constitution."

This month, after upholding a Texas law banning abortions after six weeks of pregnancy—with no exceptions for rape or incest, and empowering vigilantes to enforce the statute—the Supreme Court heard arguments in Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization, a case that the Center for Reproductive Rights said "will decide the fate of abortion rights in the U.S."

With a 6-3 conservative supermajority—thanks largely to the appointment of three anti-choice justices by former President Donald Trump—and with a dozen states having already enacted so-called "trigger laws" that would severely restrict or ban abortions if Roe v. Wade is overturned, reproductive rights advocates fear the worst. But they are also taking action.

"There is a lot of work to be done in order to shore up abortion rights and access," Elizabeth Nash, a state policy analyst with the pro-choice research group Guttmacher Institute, told the Associated Press.

In California, Gov. Gavin Newsom, state lawmakers, reproductive healthcare providers, advocacy groups, and others have joined forces in a bid to make the Golden State an abortion refuge in the event of a Roe overturn.

Predicting a wave of hundreds of thousands of people seeking the medical procedure if it is banned elsewhere, Newsom, a Democrat, said earlier this month that "we'll be a sanctuary."

"We are looking at ways to support that inevitability and looking at ways to expand our protections," he added. That means possibly funding travel, lodging, healthcare, and other expenses for people who choose to undergo abortions, according to a recent report from the California Future of Abortion Council, a group launched by the governor.

Vermont, which along with Oregon is the only state to pass laws affirming reproductive rights throughout pregnancy, is aiming to go even further. A proposed amendment to the state constitution—Proposal 5, or the Reproductive Liberty Amendment—easily passed both houses of the Democrat-dominated state Legislature in 2019.

Under Vermont law, lawmakers must approve a constitutional amendment during two successive legislative sessions with an election in between. The state House—which passed the bill by a vote of 106-38 in May 2019—is expected to vote on the measure next month.

Proposal 5 affirms that "the right to reproductive liberty is central to the exercise of personal autonomy and involves decisions people should be able to make free from compulsion of the state," and that "enshrining this right in the constitution is critical to ensuring equal protection and treatment under the law and upholding the right of all people to health, dignity, independence, and freedom."

"In my mind, there should be no question where Vermont stands with regard to its core values and fundamental rights," state Rep. Ann Pugh (D-59) told the Associated Press. "And for those rights and responsibilities and values to be protected more definitively, they need to be enshrined in our state constitution."

"I think there's been a sense of complacency. I think this is a wake-up call. This is a clarion call to all of us."

Lucy Leriche, Planned Parenthood Vermont Action Fund's vice president of public affairs, told VT Digger earlier this month that three years ago, many Vermonters questioned the need for a constitutional amendment to protect reproductive rights in one of the nation's most progressive states. And in 2019, Vermont voters approved Act 47, a law which "recognizes an individual's fundamental right to reproductive choice."

However, Leriche noted that laws can be overturned, and with Roe imperiled, she said "the stars are aligned" for action.

"I think there's been a sense of complacency," she said. "I think this is a wake-up call. This is a clarion call to all of us. And I think people are activated and waking up and realizing that this is not something we can take for granted."

"I kind of can't believe that we're here after nearly a half a century of this," Leriche added, "this right being established and reaffirmed by the U.S. Supreme Court, that we're actually in a moment where our constitution has been politicized to the point where we are looking at taking away a fundamental right that people have had for nearly a half a century."

While Democrat-led states are taking action to affirm and expand abortion rights, advocates are also pressuring the U.S. Senate to codify Roe at the federal level by passing the House-approved Women's Health Protection Act—even if it requires reforming or abolishing the filibuster.

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