It’s been more than 45 years since the U.S. Supreme Court issued its landmark ruling in Roe v. Wade, but as Vermont House lawmakers learned at a public hearing Wednesday evening, the debate over abortion rights is as intense as it’s ever been.
Hundreds of anti-abortion advocates flooded the House chamber to register their opposition to an abortion-rights bill making its way through the Legislature.
Brittany Lovejoy, of Montgomery, wore a black veil draped over her head during her testimony in the House chamber Wednesday evening — the same black veil she wears to church every Sunday.
"Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee," Lovejoy said. "Blessed art thou among woman, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb."
It isn’t often lawmakers hear people invoke Scripture on the floor of the Vermont House of Representatives, but people arguing against an abortion-rights bill in many cases submitted the Bible as a central piece of evidence.
“We are not only discussing what happens here on Earth," Lovejoy said. "Our actions here and now affect our future — our eternal life, or death."
Pass the abortion-rights bill, and Pittford resident Anne Appelt told lawmakers they’ll face backlash from a force far more powerful than their human constituents.
“If anyone in this room supports this appalling bill, you are personally assisting in the murder of thousands of helpless humans, and you will stand before God on Judgment Day and have to answer for it,” Appelt said.
Lovejoy and Appelt were among the hundreds of Vermont residents on hand Wednesday to oppose H.57, which would establish a “fundamental right” to abortion in Vermont.
Vermont doesn’t have any laws prohibiting abortion right now, but many lawmakers say the arrival of a conservative majority on the U.S. Supreme Court means it’s time to affirm that right in state statute.
Burlington resident Sue Burton agrees.
“Restricting abortion will not make it go away. It will make it unsafe,” Burton said.
Supporters of the legislation were outnumbered by their anti-abortion counterparts Wednesday. But Burton, a physician assistant whose work in women’s reproductive health pre-dates Roe v. Wade, asked lawmakers to push forward with the bill.
“Please don’t let a well-orchestrated minority restrict a woman from making decisions about her own life,” she said.
Burton said other states have demonstrated that laws can be used to tightly restrict women’s access to safe abortions. She said Vermont should use its legislative authority to codify reproductive rights instead.
Melinda Moulton, of Burlington, told lawmakers about the time her own mom attempted to self-administer an abortion in the bathroom of their family home.
“What possibly could lurk in the minds of those who think that they have the right to legislate what I or any woman chooses if we are impregnated when we choose not to be?” Moulton said.
The choice, Moulton told lawmakers, isn’t whether abortion will continue.
“Women will always choose their own reproductive destiny,” Moulton said. “And the reality is it will either be at the dangerous end of coat hanger, or it will remain safe in the capable and trained hands of a professional.”
For those who believe life begins at conception though, restricting access to abortion is a policy instrument to save what they consider unborn children — and Ludlow Baptist Church Pastor Jerry Scheumann said they should use it.
“This bill defies God’s image and declares a mother has the right to kill her own child,” Scheumann said. “But House members, she does not.”
More than 90 House lawmakers have sponsored the abortion-rights legislation, and an almost identical bill has been introduced in the Senate. The House and Senate are also considering an abortion-rights amendment to the Vermont Constitution.