Equal Reproductive Rights (VT Prop 5) matters to all Vermonters
The Vermont State Constitution, dating from 1793, has been the basis of several pioneering events in Vermont history, The Marriage Equality Act and the Equal Educational Opportunity Act (Brigham Decision).
Article 7 of our Constitution (the “Common Benefits” clause) reads: “That government is, or ought to be, instituted for the common benefit, protection, and security of the people, nation, or community, and not for the particular emolument or advantage of any single person, family, or set of persons, who are a part only of that community; and that the community hath an indubitable, unalienable, and indefeasible right, to reform or alter government, in such manner as shall be, by that community, judged most conducive to the public weal.”
Vermonters are now considering another landmark decision with regard to the equality of its citizens, Prop 5, again based on the “Common Benefits” clause.
Prop 5 adds a 22d amendment to the VT State Constitution: “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.”
When fully approved by the legislature, it will go to Vermonters for a vote and if supported by a plurality will become part of the VT State Constitution and thus the law of the land. It will also make Vermont the first state in the Union to embed such a right in law.
It’s noteworthy that the law nowhere mentions family planning, birth control, sex education, or abortion. The law is not about sexual and medical practice it’s about the equality of its citizens – a majority of its citizens, one might add, as Vermont women outnumber Vermont men.
Sadly, Prop 5 has been dragged into the antiabortion battle roiling the country all the way to the Supreme Court, which will this year consider whether to limit the reproductive rights of over half the country and seriously compromise all our privacy rights.
The amendment effectively protects every Vermonter’s right to become pregnant, carry a pregnancy to term, choose or refuse sterilization, contraception, or abortion care.
Another deeply troubling element in this debate is the focus on women, as if they alone were responsible for sex education, birth control, family planning, conception, and birth itself. As a friend often reminds me “conception begins with an erection.”
When mankind needs to invent a word like “complementarianism” to provide cover for his belief in the inequality of the sexes, every thinking person of any gender should pay attention.
Complementarianism is a male-serving religious and tribal belief that, although all of us may be equal in the eyes of God, God created men and women for different purposes and that men must retain leadership in church and home. It is how many religions deny religious leadership to women and justify male dominance within the family and the economy. In fact, the religious right praised Roe v. Wade when it first appeared in 1973. When Roe was first decided, Southern Evangelicals generally felt that abortion was a personal issue in which government had no role, seeing it as a “Catholic issue.”
Throughout history men have interpreted religion to favor their own power and authority. In Catholicism for example, it has meant that only men can be priests. But at its most harmful it has justified involuntary sterilization. denial of education, male-favored compensation, leadership opportunities, and property rights, denial of family planning tools, enforced hiding of women’s bodies, sexual and physical abuse, domestic subservience and eugenics. Vermont’s eugenics frenzy, between 1931 and 1941, led to 253 mandatory sterilizations, 2/3rds of which were performed on women deemed “mentally deficient.”
We can’t have it both ways. All human beings are either equal or some are less so than others. Prop 5 addresses equality, not medical practice. It states simply that people of all genders (including cisgender and gender non-specific) have the right to determine their own reproductive choices.
As an experienced OB/GYN, Dr. Lauren MacAfee notes in a recent op-ed in VT Digger, “Health care providers practice medicine under the guidance of both ethical principles and practice regulations at the individual, clinic, hospital, state and federal level. There currently are no state restrictions on the practice of abortion in Vermont and, simply put, the Reproductive Liberty Amendment will not change how medicine is practiced in Vermont.”
As a civilization, we’re either going to have to embrace the concept of gender and racial equality in everything we do, from civics and governance to economic opportunity, housing, religious practice, and reproductive rights, or we must acknowledge openly a diminished role for women and our own embedded sexism.
What if the federal government were to mandate vasectomies, sterilization, chemical castration, or limit family size as China did so disastrously for 35 years, leading to the killing of newborn female babies, as the preference was to bear male children who would be wage earners and care for their parents in their old age.
While preserving the principle of free exercise of religion, we must also maintain the clear Constitutional separation of church and state and reaffirm the equality of all our citizens. Religious practice must remain accountable to legal principles as expressed in law.
This is not a “women’s issue.” We either believe in equality or we don’t. We are partners in families, our children’s education, our healthcare system and we initiate the conception of children. Prop 5 is as important to us as it is to the women we may love. This is not a feminist moment, it’s a human one.
And we men need to understand and support Prop 5 to advance the equality of all Vermonters.