Amid a swarm of state bills severely limiting abortion access around the country, Vermont became the latest state to take steps ensuring its state constitution protects a woman’s right to the procedure.
The state’s House voted Tuesday to advance a Senate bill establishing a constitutional amendment guaranteeing women’s right to access abortion services, marking the first time any state lawmakers in the U.S. have voted to do so.
The development was widely applauded by reproductive rights groups.
“Vermont lawmakers made history today by declaring that reproductive rights are human rights,” Meagan Gallagher, the president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Northern New England said in a statement, adding, “Vermont has established itself as the shining example for all other states by acknowledging that every person is capable of ― and must be trusted to ― make their own health care decisions without government interference.”
However, amending the constitution is a yearslong process. Now that both the House and Senate have passed the proposal, state law requires that the two bodies vote on it again in the 2021-2022 legislative session and then have voters give it final approval in November 2022.
Vermont follows Kansas in taking steps to ensure abortion will remain accessible in those states even if the U.S. Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade ― a growing concern now that the court is tilted to the right with the confirmation of Justice Brett Kavanaugh.
Last month, the Kansas Supreme Court ruled that the state’s constitution already enshrines a woman’s right to an abortion, determining that it’s protected by the right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
The developments in Vermont and Kansas come as several other state legislatures pursue bills that seek to ban abortion as soon as a doctor can measure cardiac activity in a fetus, usually around six weeks into a pregnancy ― a point at which many women still don’t know they’re pregnant.
Governors in Mississippi, Kentucky and Georgia recently signed such bills into law, though they will likely face legal challenges. Similar bills are also in play in Florida, Missouri, Ohio, Tennessee and Texas.