Abortion watchdogs consider new legislation; The Defender speaks to three vocal lobbyists


With Brett Kavanaugh now serving as a Supreme Court Justice, tipping the court toward more conservative decisions, reconsidering Roe v. Wade appears more possible, meaning decisions around abortion could once again be determined state by state. In February, the Vermont House passed a bill that preserves abortion rights, once again igniting a flurry of opinions from both pro-choice and pro-life activists.

The Vermont House, facing multiple amendments to restrict abortion access, recently passed additional legislation, titled H.57, to secure a woman’s right to choose abortion. The Defender spoke with three individuals who watch the abortion debate closely for their take on the current landscape.

“If Roe were overturned, the most likely scenario would be that the power to regulate the right to an abortion would be returned to each individual state,” said Susan Apel, a professor at the Vermont Law School who works in family law and gender issues, including abortion. “For a ‘liberal’ state like Vermont, a change in abortion law seems unlikely but one never knows.”

Vermont decriminalized abortion in the 1972 court case of Beecham v. Leahy. Since then, there have been no restrictions or regulations on the practice of abortions. The recent House legislation confirmed that ruling, said Apel.
Opponents criticize the House legislation as lacking concern for young women or unborn children. Centers where abortions are offered, such as Planned Parenthood, are still threatened by the possibility of Roe v. Wade being overturned. Planned Parenthood communications director for Vermont Eileen Sullivan explains how.

“We need all hands on deck to protect our rights to abortion access,” said Sullivan in a phone interview. “The rights and access to abortion we’ve spent decades fighting for could disappear. We’re watching Supreme Court cases very closely.”

Mary Hahn Beerworth from the Vermont Right to Life Committee, which supported multiple amendments that would restrict abortions for minors, late term pregnancies and protect the “voice of the unborn,” said she she believes that the abortion laws in the state of Vermont won’t be overturned any time soon, despite her and her supporters numerous efforts to stop legislation on pro-choice abortion laws.

“The legislation is entirely in favor of abortion. There’s probably a handful of pro-lifers there,” said Beerworth. “Please thank those who fought long and hard against H.57, in an attempt to represent not just pro-life Vermonters, but also pro-choice Vermonters who hope to strike a balance between the rights of the mother and the rights of a developing human being,” Beerworth stated on her website.

Sullivan, however, said she worries not for the future of Vermont alone, but for the future of abortion laws nationally, and what that would mean for young women.
“Abortion rights for women is about having the right to self-determination,” Sullivan said. “Abortion has been legal in this country for more than 45 years. Most people today have only known a country where they have the right to access abortion. That is my hope for the future, and future generations of women – to continue to have the right to self-determination.”