Home » Vermont lawmakers take up landmark abortion ‘shield law,’ but protections could only go so far

Vermont lawmakers take up landmark abortion ‘shield law,’ but protections could only go so far

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Rep. Angela Arseneau (D-Williston) addresses a meeting of the House Judiciary Committee at the State Capitol in Montpelier, Wednesday, Jan. 25, 2023. Photo Credit: Glen Russell/VTDiggerGlen Russell/VTDigger

The Vermont Legislature is considering legislation to protect health care providers and patients from investigations and prosecutions by the state for criminalizing certain reproductive health care procedures. But there are few protections Vermont can offer beyond its own state lines.

House Judiciary Committee Hearings H.89 This week marks Congress’ first major consideration of abortion-related policy since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the landmark Roe v. Wade precedent last summer, thereby nullifying federal abortion rights. is showing.flat A few months before the Vermont Legislature convenes for its 2023 session.

Such shield laws are a new legal realm, the emergence of a post-law national landscape in which abortion legality and regulation is a patchwork of state-specific laws. Although H.89 contains numerous provisions, the heart of H.89 is that Vermont public agencies may issue civil or legal sanctions against persons traveling to Vermont to receive abortion or gender reassignment care. It prohibits cooperating with interstate investigations or proceedings seeking criminal penalties. .

The bill also prohibits extradition of a Vermonter to another state to testify against a patient who received such treatment in Vermont. care.

David Cohen, a law school professor at Drexel University, testified to lawmakers Wednesday that a Supreme Court ruling last summer unleashed a “new abortion battlefield” between states.

“There is going to be a cross-jurisdictional abortion war,” Cohen said, citing a paper he wrote with fellow legal scholars. “Because without state rights, it would be a battle across these jurisdictions.”

Since the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision this summer, only seven states have passed shield laws similar to H.89, and two others are considering bills similar to Vermont. . The House draft text is particularly broad in that it includes protections for patients and physicians who receive and provide gender-affirming care. As many states pass laws restricting or criminalizing gender reassignment surgery and hormone therapy for transgender people, especially young people, Vermont legislators are calling for such treatments offered within the state to be banned. He said he wanted to protect

H.89 is also the first abortion rights bill introduced in the state since Vermonters. voted overwhelmingly in favor of Article 22, also known as the Reproductive Liberty Amendment, which enshrined the right to reproductive health care in the state constitution. Article 22 is a novelty in the state, and voters in California and Michigan approved similar ballot measures in November. The Shield Act will also further strengthen Vermont’s protections.

“We all know Vermonters overwhelmingly support abortion rights. We know because they told us at the ballot box in November.” I believe our ethos in Vermont was reflected in the November vote on bodily autonomy and personal liberty…so what can we do to help all of us live that ethos? It’s really great that you’re working on it.”

Rep. Kate Donnelly, D-Hyde Park, hears testimony during a meeting of the House Judiciary Committee at the State Capitol in Montpelier, Wednesday, Jan. 25, 2023.Photo by Glenn Russell/VTDigger

But the Shield Act, despite its novelty and high-priority status among its supporters, has limitations if it is passed. Over the course of two days and hours of testimony, legal experts warned lawmakers that the shield was not bulletproof. This is especially true for patients who travel to Vermont for treatment and return to states with anti-abortion laws.

By prohibiting extradition of witnesses and subpoenas of records, H.89 offers some protection to patients by bringing interstate investigations to their knees. But Vermont cannot stop out-of-state agencies from suing, interrogating, investigating, and arresting patients after they leave Vermont.

“The downside of the Shield Act is that the protections are aimed primarily at health care providers. “We don’t want our patients to feel a false sense of security,” the Northern New England Planned Parenthood Policy testified Thursday.

Even the protections for doctors would all but stop at state borders. Cohen gave an example. If a Vermont-based doctor offers an abortion to a Texas patient in Vermont, there is no worry of extradition as long as they stay in Vermont. But things can change if, for example, a doctor travels out of state.

“If this donor goes to Florida in the winter, he will be protected in Florida from asking the Governor of Florida to extradite this person, who is now physically present in Florida, for this criminal prosecution. No,” Cohen said Wednesday.

“It’s a new world for providers,” says Cohen.

Jessa Barnard, executive director of the Vermont Medical Association, listened to Texas law, SB 8, on Thursday. grabbed the attention of the public It established what it called an abortion “bounty” system, allowing citizens to sue for civil penalties those who “facilitated or facilitated” an abortion. Such legislation is “innovative and new,” said Barnard, who testified in favor of the Shield bill.

“While it once might have been a far-fetched example of liability if a provider moved to another state, it may no longer be the case,” Barnard said.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Rep. Martin Lalonde (D-South Burlington) speaks at a committee meeting at the State Capitol in Montpelier, Wednesday, January 25, 2023. Photo credit: Glenn Russell/VTDigger

H.89 is supported by Northern New England Family Planning, GLBTQ Legal Advocates and Advocates, Vermont American Civil Liberties Union, Vermont Medical Association, Office of the State Attorney General, and others. When asked about the bill at a press conference on Tuesday, Republican Gov. Phil Scott said he had not yet considered the details of it, but said he supported its intentions.

Clarke told lawmakers on Thursday that the Attorney General’s Office supports the bill and is confident in its constitutionality. Falko Schilling, director of advocacy for the ACLU in Vermont, told his VTDigger that he was unaware that similar shield laws were being challenged in courts in other states.

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