Cathy Dodge: Article 22 reckless and dangerous as a constitutional change

This letter is by Cathy Dodge, of West Danville.

Why are we making a change to the Vermont Constitution? Good question! We the People have an important vote coming in the November election that can change the course of Vermont. Every vote counts.

This change to our Vermont Constitution is not necessary and reckless at best. Our Vermont Constitution is unique amongst state constitutions, with rights and privileges for the residents of this state stated wholly in Article 1. Although Article 22 is promoted as an abortion rights statement, those rights are already contained in current Vermont law for all nine months of gestation, for any reason, and will remain so no matter what the outcome of Roe v. Wade. That makes Article 22 redundant and unnecessary in regards to gaining more abortion rights. Our state constitutional rights are intended to be written as guidelines for the running of state government; the ensuing set of legislative laws that are passed down by our state legislators are intended to outline how the specifics of those guidelines are to be carried out.

If this is the case, and indeed it is, why is Article 22 being promoted at this time?

I would like to put forth the numerous problems involved in this change that make it reckless and dangerous as a constitutional change whether you are for or against abortion. Remember, once a law of this nature becomes part of the Vermont Constitution, it cannot be removed. The numerous problems that I will put forth are many and more than most of us have the time to digest in one reading; so I will send it in small pieces in the next few weeks to permit us to digest and educate ourselves before voting in November, 2022. Hopefully it will keep this fresh in our minds.

Here’s what it says:

Sec 2, Article 22 [Personal Reproductive Liberty] of Chapter I of the Vermont Constitution added to read: “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.”

Problem 1:  The language

Most people think this is an unlimited, unregulated abortion bill. If we do not understand the open-endedness of the wording, we won’t understand the multiple complexities if Article 22 is approved by the voters of Vermont. The general public, in order to make the right choice come voting day, needs to understand what this says and does not say.

“People on both sides of the debate over abortion know that ‘reproductive autonomy’ is publicly understood to be a way of referring to an unlimited abortion licensure that is, elective abortion permitted through the entire nine months of gestation and pregnancy up to and including the process of birth.” —  Robert P. George, Profession of Jurisprudence, Princeton Univ.

Though this may be what is “publicly understood,” it does not describe what is potentially allowable within the parameters of the language. Phrases like “reproductive autonomy” are about more than abortion, and will be described next. “Compelling state interest achieved by the least restrictive means” will mean a court or other civil systems (that are not yet established) will be required to examine individual cases as they arise.  A state constitutional article should not be so broad as to have to be translated by a lower court system. This wording is an opportunity for confusion and opens doors to any number of conditions that will be discussed further. This will cost the taxpayers of this state considerable money for hidden costs, additional civil systems, and personnel.

This constitutional change should not be accepted because it is badly worded and so broad and non-specific that it will create more confusion, layers of legal problems and burden for the courts, and a myriad of other non-abortion rights issues.

Problem 2:  What else is encompassed in “personal reproductive autonomy”

Who will define this for the statewide level if it is not defined in this Article — the Legislature?  Individual courts a case by case basis? The word personal means pertaining to each individual.  That would seem to infer that each case has to be measured on its own. How many choices can there be for life, death, personal opinions, etc.?  Seems there is too much left open to even think that this is a legal directive.

The word “reproductive” is anything that has to do with procreation. This involves more than one person. Which person gets personal autonomy? Does that leave a wide open door of unknowns for two people of any gender to agree, disagree, compromise on a decision for the innate life of a minor offspring?

The word “autonomy” means the quality or state of being “self-governing especially self-directing freedom and especially moral independence.” Or self-seeking, wishing to cause one party to conform rather than seek the highest good for all. If everyone lives for themselves, kindness goes out the window.

There are too many questions about “self-governing” and what that could mean to a child, born or unborn. At what point does a child, born or unborn, have the right to make a self-governing decision for itself apart from parents, guardians, surrogates regarding its birth or even what gender it might want after birth? If we handle this on a case by case basis, does the question of self-directed freedom become redundant? Can a child make that request for itself? Can parents make an assumption that they know what the child will want and can they agree on the outcome?  A case-by-case process in all this will make “test models” of children and adults that does not take their autonomy into account at all. Instead it is an open door for ideologies of multi-gender marriage, surrogacy, gender changes, insurance coverage, education, sex trafficking, competitive sports, and healthcare to name a few.  Do we really want a statement added to our Constitution that requires hours of court debate and confrontation because no one knows the answers? Do we really want to use our families and children as a test bed for ideologies not proven to be realistic?  Do we really want impartial courts to determine whose opinions are more important? Will we be pitting children’s rights against adult representatives’ ideologies, or paternal members against one another, not taking into account the outcomes or potential pitfalls for the future lives of generations to come? Paig Feaser, Public Affairs Organizer for Planned Parenthood, in a statement states in regards to changing the Vermont Constitution: “will open up a range of different questions for future lawmakers … for years to come.” It appears that promoters of this change do realize they will be able to tie up the courts with these issues on a long term basis, and by not putting more discussion and consideration into these issues, demonstrate contempt for the people of Vermont.

Who will determine and define mothers’ rights, fathers’ rights, parents’ rights, grandparents’ rights, teachers’ rights, spouses’ rights, partners’ rights, children’s rights? It is a massive assumption that these questions can be answered in the process of navigating the unknown pitfalls while impacting human lives. Will it really give us autonomy or will it give us more harm, confusion and chaos, bogging down the courts so that outcomes take years to resolve?

Watch for Part 2 of this series as we will begin to dig deeper into the father’s and mother’s rights, the negative affects on women’s mental health, and more.  Stay tuned.

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4 thoughts on “Cathy Dodge: Article 22 reckless and dangerous as a constitutional change

  1. Cathy, thanks for your work on this! I believe the ambiguous nature of the change to Vermont’s constitution will open Pandora’s box wide.

    Just what we need. More judges and lawyers paving the way forward…unnecessarily. The constitution should be clear and concise.

  2. Does the constitution apply to adults only, or does the word “individuals” in this case refer to anyone of any age? I ask because it seems to me Article 22 is all about making it a constitutional right for any age child to get sterilized.

  3. THank You Cathy, I look forward to the next ‘session”. One point VT does in fact have one of the most lenient abortion laws in the USA, so why do we need this constitutional change? I fear there is much more sinister scenario’s coming, thus this bill escalates/expedites them.

  4. You are right. It is a bit lengthier than most want to digest in one setting, but thank you very much for doing the homework.

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