Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin signed a bill Monday repealing the unconstitutional provisions of a state law regarding abortion providers. S. 317 strikes down criminal statutes that subjected doctors who perform or advertise abortions to up 20 years in jail.
“With this bill, Vermont is showing the rest of the country that we can move forward rather than backward when it comes to reproductive rights,” Gov. Shumlin said during the ceremony, where he was joined by house speaker Shap Smith, Attorney General Bill Sorrell, and Planned Parenthood staff and supporters. “It’s unfortunate that other states are turning back the clock on the issue, but here in Vermont, a woman’s right to make her own health-care decisions will not be taken away.”
There are now 15 states and the District of Columbia that have yet to eliminate unconstitutional laws regarding abortion since the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade in 1973. In 1972, the Vermont Supreme Court ruled in Beecham v. Leahy that the state’s abortion statutes were unconstitutional, but until now legislative action had not been taken.
When the legislation was unanimously passed by the Senate Judiciary Committee in February, committee member Sen. Dick Sears (D-Bennington) said, “It’s important to repeal this at a time when future rulings of the U.S. Supreme Court are really quite frankly up in the air. I would hate for Vermont to go back and repeal this at a future time.”
In a statement, Meagan Gallagher, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, said the bill is a necessary step forward in protecting reproductive rights in Vermont and sends a clear message to the rest of the country that legislation can be passed protecting abortion access rather than restricting it. “Keeping the statutes on the books year after year sends the wrong message about Vermont’s views on abortion rights and leaves the state vulnerable to a costly legal challenge or legislative battle down the road,” said Gallagher.