The Vermont senate voted Thursday to repeal outdated statutes that subjected doctors who perform or advertise abortions to jail sentences of up to ten years.
The criminal penalties remained on the books, despite having been found unconstitutional by the state supreme court in 1972, the year before Roe v. Wade made abortion legal across the United States. Vermont is one of 16 states that, along with the District of Columbia, has never repealed restrictive abortion laws ruled unconstitutional by Roe v. Wade.
The bill, S 317, accomplished the same goal as another bill, S 315, but the latter bill also included language recognizing a woman’s right to have an abortion. While this language would not have explicitly protected abortion rights if Roe v. Wade was ever overturned, it affirmed that the choice of whether to end a pregnancy “must be left to a woman, her family, and her faith, with the counsel of her health care provider,” and that access to safe and legal abortion as part of comprehensive reproductive health care should be a public policy goal in Vermont.
Even without this language, however, repealing the old statutes is a step toward protecting reproductive freedom. Nick Carter, a spokesperson for Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, told RH Reality Check last month that removing the old anti-abortion language helps preempt future legislative or legal attacks on abortion rights, and reassures doctors that they cannot somehow still be prosecuted for providing a legal procedure.
The bill now moves to the state house.