By John McClaughry
Proposal 5 to amend the Vermont Constitution to promote “reproductive liberty” is now under Senate consideration. I don’t propose to discuss the “right to personal reproductive autonomy” that is the focus of that proposal, but the opening sentence would create a lot of problems.
That sentence reads as follows: “The people are guaranteed the liberty and dignity to determine their own life’s course.”
First off, this is a passive construction: “are guaranteed.” Who and what exactly is doing the guaranteeing? The Bill of Rights, to which Proposal 5 would be an addition, declares the rights of the people — for instance — to exercise freedom of speech and press, to be protected in the enjoyment of life, liberty and property, and to bear arms. But nowhere does the Constitution guarantee anything, let alone “the liberty and dignity to determine their own life’s course.”
Could a person, under this language, bring a lawsuit against the state for being made to wear an undignified helmet while riding a motorcycle? Could a person sentenced under Chapter II sec. 64 to perform hard labor in full view of the public, object that being seen in an orange jumpsuit cleaning up trash invades his dignity? Could a person bring suit claiming that food stamps and welfare payments are not sufficient to allow him or her to live a life of dignity at taxpayer’s expense?
I’m not keen on the rest of Proposal 5, but this first sentence really has to go.
John McClaughry is vice president of the Ethan Allen Institute. Reprinted with permission from the Ethan Allen Institute Blog.