The Vermont House of Representatives is scheduled to begin debate on an amendment that would enshrine the right to abortion in the state constitution and send the question to voters in the fall early in the new year.
Because the process began two years ago, it’s a coincidence that Vermont lawmakers will be debating the Reproductive Liberty Amendment at the same time the United States Supreme Court is debating a case that could severely erode a right that has existed for half a century.
Because of the pending decision in that case, which is expected in mid-2022, abortion is now on the legislative agenda in states other than Vermont. State legislatures across the country will be reacting to the possibility of a seismic shift in the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling, which legalized abortion throughout the United States. Republican-led legislatures are ready to further restrict or outright ban abortions, while Democratic-led legislatures are seeking to ensure access to abortion in their state law.
When supporters of the proposed Vermont amendment began the process in 2019 to enshrine “reproductive autonomy,” including abortion, in the constitution, they had the potential loss of Roe in mind.
In Kansas, a very different approach is being considered. Republican state lawmakers have placed a proposed constitutional amendment on the August 2022 primary ballot that would overturn a 2019 state Supreme Court decision. Abortion access was declared a “fundamental right” and part of a woman’s inherent right to bodily autonomy in that ruling.
The amendment would state that there is no right to abortion in the state constitution and that the Legislature can regulate it however lawmakers see fit — which means that if Roe v. Wade is overturned, Kansas lawmakers could outright ban abortion.
California lawmakers are expected to consider a plan to make the state a “sanctuary” for those seeking reproductive care in the coming year. This could include paying for travel, lodging, and procedures for people coming from other states where abortion is restricted, if not outlawed.
According to the Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive rights think tank, at least 20 states already have laws that would severely restrict or ban abortion if the Supreme Court overturns Roe and leaves the issue up to the states.
Earlier this year, Republican lawmakers in at least a half-dozen states announced plans to introduce legislation modeled after a new Texas law that effectively prohibits abortion six weeks after conception. The law is written in such a way that it is intended to avoid federal courts by entrusting enforcement to individuals rather than the state. They hope it will pave the way for the kind of abortion crackdown they have been advocating for years.
In Mississippi, Republican state Sen. Chris McDaniel said earlier this year that he would “absolutely” consider filing legislation to match the Texas law after the United States Supreme Court upheld it, at least for the time being.
According to Elizabeth Nash, a state policy analyst with the Guttmacher Institute, more than a dozen states, plus the District of Columbia, have statutory protections for abortion rights. This includes Massachusetts, where Democrats controlled the legislature earlier this year and overrode Republican Gov. Charlie Baker’s veto of a bill codifying abortion rights into state law.
Nonetheless, even in California, which has already enacted several measures to protect abortion access, a pro-choice group outlined 45 steps that could be taken to further protect those rights.
Efforts to further restrict access are not limited to the country’s more traditionally conservative regions. The state budget signed by Republican New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu in June includes a provision prohibiting abortion after 24 weeks of gestation, with exceptions for the mother’s life or physical health. It goes into effect on January 1st, just before the start of the new legislative session.
And Republican legislators in New Hampshire are working on several abortion-related bills, including one that would prohibit abortion after the detection of a fetal heartbeat. Another provision would enable the biological father of an unborn child to seek a court order prohibiting a woman from having an abortion. A third proposal would lift the prohibition on remaining on a sidewalk adjacent to an abortion clinic.