Issues, Legislation/Bills

Personal Reproductive Liberty

Today the Vermont Senate voted for the second time to approve a proposed amendment to the Vermont Constitution that would guarantee “personal reproductive autonomy.” We voted for the amendment the first time in 2019. After the Vermont House also approves the amendment a second time, it will appear on the November 2022 General Election ballot for a vote of the people of Vermont. If approved, our state’s constitution will be amended. Below is the text of the proposed amendment and remarks I made on the floor of the Senate today in support of the amendment, and in memory of my mother who was a strong proponent of reproductive rights.

The above photo is of my sister, me, and my mother at the March for Women’s Lives in Washington, DC in 1986.

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Article 22. Personal reproductive liberty

That an individual’s right to personal reproductive autonomy is central to the liberty and dignity to determine one’s own life course and shall not be denied or infringed unless justified by a compelling State interest achieved by the least restrictive means.

Today we are voting to give Vermonters the opportunity to clarify and underscore their values in the Constitution of our State. In November 2022, Vermonters will be able to vote on whether to affirm that an “individual’s right to personal reproductive autonomy is central to the liberty and dignity to determine one’s own life course.”

In the context of health care, “autonomy” is often defined as “the ability of an individual to exercise their rights, to consider alternatives, have choices respected, remain independent and be involved in care decisions, and to act without undue influence or interference from others.”

In the context of reproductive autonomy, this means the ability to make personal choices about when, if, and how to get or remain pregnant; whether and how to control fertility; and when and with whom to have sex. While these choices are relevant to people of all gender identities, women’s ability to exercise these individual rights are intrinsically tied to our very humanity.

For centuries, the sometimes brutal and violent control of women’s bodies, reproduction, fertility, and sexuality has been used to deny women our independence and the control of our own life course, to deny us our liberty and our dignity. 

Today we are giving Vermonters the opportunity to vote to affirm the reproductive autonomy and the liberty and dignity of all Vermonters.

The first time I stood up publicly to defend the right of reproductive autonomy for all women was when I was twelve years old. My mother took me and my little sister to a march for women’s rights in Washington, DC. It was the 1980s and my mother told my sister and me that we needed to learn to speak up for our rights and that she would teach us how. She had come of age in an era when women did not have reproductive autonomy, and she experienced what that meant for her and the women in her life.

To get to the march, we rode a packed bus all night and then joined hundreds of thousands of others on the Washington Mall the next day, standing, marching, singing, chanting, listening, and learning that our future was dependent on our ability to protect the rights of women to reproductive autonomy, liberty, and dignity. I have been fighting for those rights ever since.

My mother taught me many things, like how to be a strong woman, a good mother, a community leader, and a caring friend and neighbor. She also taught me how to speak up for women’s reproductive rights.

My mother died three weeks ago. So, I’m honored today to cast my vote in her memory, to give her granddaughters and all Vermonters the opportunity to vote for the protection of personal reproductive liberty for generations to come.

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