On May 7, 2019, the Vermont General Assembly passed a constitutional amendment declaring a right to personal reproductive autonomy. Constitutional amendments are uncommon in Vermont. During the previous 25 years, Vermont has voted on two constitutional amendments—the lowest number in the U.S. besides Delaware, where the legislature can pass amendments without a vote of electors. In Vermont, a constitutional amendment requires the approval of two successive legislatures—in this case, the one elected in 2018, and the one that will be elected in 2020. Therefore, the earliest the amendment can appear on the ballot in 2022.
Sen. Virginia Lyons (D-Chittenden), chair of the Senate Health and Welfare Committee, stated that the amendment is needed due to “the lack of a definitive enumeration of reproductive liberty in Vermont’s Constitution, the threat of Roe versus Wade being overturned by a very conservative U.S. Supreme Court and the cloud of a multistate initiative to pass restrictive punitive laws.”
The constitutional amendment would not define the term personal reproductive autonomy. Rep. Anne Donahue (R-Washington) questioned the term, saying, “It’s a term far more open to interpretation and, in fact, could mean a great many things that we don’t currently envision.” The ACLU of Vermont, which supports Proposition 5, and Vermont Right to Life, which opposes Proposition 5, agree that the term includes abortion but supporters and opponents disagree on other ways the term could be interpreted.
In the state Senate, the amendment passed 28-2. In the state House, the amendment passed 106-38. Overall, 99 percent of Democrats and 21 percent of Republicans voted to pass the amendment.
The Senate and House will need to pass the amendment again during the 2021—2022 legislative session with similar majority votes in each chamber. Every state senator and representative will be up for reelection in 2020.
In 2018, voters in Alabama and West Virginia approved constitutional amendments stating, “Nothing in this Constitution secures or protects a right to abortion or requires the funding of [an] abortion.” In 2019, voters in Louisiana could vote on a similar constitutional amendment.