Sen. Joe Benning: The abortion debate

Editor’s note: This commentary is by state Sen. Joe Benning, R-Caledonia.

On my first day in the Vermont State Senate, two veteran Chittenden County senators in front of me turned around to ask me a question. Senators Sally Fox and Hinda Miller, in many ways political opposites from this new senator from the Kingdom, asked if I’d consider cosponsoring a resolution supporting the famous case of Roe v. Wade. Much to their surprise, I didn’t hesitate to sign on.

state of Vermont

Sen. Joe Benning, R-Caledonia

I’m reminded of that moment as we contemplate two new abortion bills, which I find myself completely opposed to. These abortion bills, H.57 and S.25, were brought in reaction to a changing makeup of the U. S. Supreme Court. Proponents contend Roe could be overturned, so Vermont should preserve its reproductive rights analysis by statute. But do these bills actually do that, or is there a better alternative?

Roe faced disparate abortion laws across the country that ranged from none at all to outright criminal bans. Vermont, for instance, permitted a woman to have an abortion but made it a crime for doctors to perform one. Recognizing the hypocrisy of criminal charges against a doctor assisting in a legal procedure, our Vermont Supreme Court (Republicans one and all) struck down the law in the case of Beecham v. Leahy & Jeffords. (Yes, that Leahy and that Jeffords.)

Seeking national uniformity, the Roe Court began with the premise that a woman had a right to privacy over reproductive rights throughout her pregnancy. But they also recognized a competing interest arose as a fetus grew stronger over time, especially when that fetus was capable of sustaining life on its own. Dividing a nine-month pregnancy into three “trimesters,” the Court permitted state intrusion starting in the second trimester, and only if the proposed regulation was necessary for a “compelling state interest.” This high bar was lowered in the third trimester to a “rational basis” test, slowly ceding ground as a fetus came to full term. This balancing test, admittedly never satisfying those at either extreme of the debate, worked reasonably well to settle the issue. For that reason, I had no hesitancy signing a resolution supporting it.

But I don’t believe either H.57 or S.25 is a proper response should Roe be overturned. H.57 completely eliminates Roe’s balancing test by declaring a fetus to have no rights at all. An abortion could thus be performed on a perfectly viable fetus, without any medical necessity, literally up to the moment of full term. S.25’s language insulates an abortion health care provider from any civil, criminal or administrative liability. The woman would actually lose a right, the state would be powerless, and the provider’s employer could never impose sanctions even when gross negligence or willful malfeasance is involved.

As an aging white male, some may hold me suspect for even entering this discussion. But this pro-choice Republican is hard pressed to believe the vast majority of Vermonters can support the way these bills eliminate Roe’s four-decades-old balancing test. I suspect even the most ardent pro-choice supporter feels discomfort defending the position that a near full term baby, fully capable of survival outside the womb, can be aborted without any right of society to even ask why. We should never protect providers who act with gross negligence or willful malfeasance. These bills don’t work.

Thankfully there is an alternative. Senate Proposal 3 would amend the Vermont Constitution to explicitly declare a right to privacy. Patterned after a similar provision in the Montana State Constitution, it would prohibit infringement upon that right without the showing of a compelling state interest. Every citizen, no matter their gender or skin color or personal beliefs, would have a right to privacy. The state would always bear the burden of demonstrating a “compelling state interest” when a regulation seeks to override it. Women would retain a balancing test similar to Roe, and so would every citizen whose privacy rights were potentially subject to state interference.

This amendment would rekindle Vermont’s heritage as a champion of individual freedom, would shield us against whatever our federal government does, and quickly settle a divisive debate. Senate Proposal 3 deserves our utmost consideration.

Images courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/James McNellis and state of Vermont

14 thoughts on “Sen. Joe Benning: The abortion debate

  1. Mr. Benning, your proposed solution would have been the path of reason for the Dems who crafted H57, but it is too late for your (Democrat) rescue plan to succeed: this horse is well fled from the barn, and you cannot withdraw the exploding public awareness that people come to Vermont for maple syrup and unlimited access to late-term executions that are illegal in their home state.

    Mr. Benning, how does your proposal take a single step toward ending this practice, which you SAY you oppose? It doesn’t — it does the reverse, seeking to go back to business as usual. Oops, “pay no attention to that man behind the curtain, he is merely providing a liberating surgical procedure to advance the rights of mothers…” Nope. Ain’t happening.

  2. Senator Joe Benning seems proud that on his first day in the Vermont State Senate he revealed that he was more a liberal progressive than a true Republican when he agreed to co-sponsor a resolution supporting the case of Roe v. Wade, a death worshiping practice that continues each and every year up to even this session in the Vermont legislature. He pompously declares that the liberal Democrats who requested this of him were very surprised that “I didn’t hesitate to sign on.” Now, after eight years in the Senate, no one should be surprised with that or other actions he has taken. His RINO features have only become more prominent over the years.

    When it comes to upholding his constitutionally sworn oath to do nothing injurious to the people, Senator Benning’s position on abortion is nothing to be proud of. The Roe resolution he co-sponsored was a clear declaration that he was with those who would thumb their nose at true pro-life citizens who fight daily and valiantly for the lives of the unborn, many of which he supposedly represents. What other purpose would he have in supporting the resolution eight years ago or now? The resolution does nothing to change the law to further protect anyone. That very resolution and the ones passed by the liberal-progressive super-majority Vermont legislature year in and year out celebrating Roe v. Wade is just an evil rite akin to those practiced by barbarians of history who worshiped the death culture. What more could it be? How many other court decisions does the legislature celebrate each and every year?

    I am not impressed that he is opposed to H.57 that will if passed give Vermont the distinction of having the most radical abortion statute in the world. Surely, H.57 is more horrific, if that is possible, than the holding in Roe v. Wade, but to oppose H.57 and at the same time suggest that it would be good to accomplish what Roe v. Wade does by other means, should not hold this man up for appreciations for his stand on life. Is he trying to make political points with much of the pro-life Republican base, knowing full well that if H.57 fails, there still will be the Beecham v. Leahy case that will allow abortions of fully developed and healthy children up to the last minute before delivery as it has for over 40 years? Who does he think he is kidding? So just as his signing onto that resolution in his first session was for show, so too is this not-so-heroic declaration. It’s all just for show!

    Senator Benning, a lawyer, surely must understand the impact of a reversal of Roe v. Wade, but from what he has written he either doesn’t or is pretending not to. If Roe v. Wade is overturned in the way some expect, Vermont will still be shackled with Beecham v. Leahy so what Joe did was just for appearance. He has nothing to lose in his opposition of H.57.

    What will be the result if we follow the Senator’s council with the phony “competing interest” analysis that is nothing more than a morally bankrupt way, through a fiction, to make him appear to be somewhat pro-life when that approach has resulted nationally in the death of sixty million babies under the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision. That is ten times the number of humans destroyed by the Nazis in the Holocaust. Senator Benning should not feel so good about his analysis and his desire to by another means preserve the “legal” slaughter of children. In Vermont alone, 100,000 children have been wrongfully killed since Roe V. Wade.

    Benning is right to be opposing H.57 and S.25 but don’t be deceived by his reason for doing so. What he is suggesting for a solution is wicked and as Proverbs 10:9 says, “It is an abomination to kings to commit wickedness, for the throne is established by righteousness.”

    Don’t be deceived. Those in a position of authority or influence should realize that by encouraging such evil thought that he urges, that they will be held as accountable someday as he will.

  3. Sen. Benning – with all due respect, this op-ed and how it would address the horrid aspects of H57 and S25 is entirely incoherent. Confusing and opaque in both substance and intent. Putting aside the fact that Senate Proposal 3 would take half a decade of legislative odyssey to become law, even then it would do nothing to prohibit this ugliness which is happening right now, this year, in our State. Is this the Republican response to such evil?

    • Job, This is why we came to a place of leaving the state I and generations before me were born and raised. There is no opposition party to the collectivists in Vermont. If there were no Republican Party it might actually be better. At least then those who understand the horrors that collectivists in power deliver would not be divided between many dumping their energy into a party that really accomplishes nothing year after year and others trying to influence outside that empty political party, and most just giving up even trying … or doing what we did and voting with our feet after realizing that our very living in Vermont aided the enemies of freedom with our state tax dollars.

      We tried, but were priced out of direct participation in the political arena, as are most Vermonters with these insanely long legislative sessions. But we also got a close up view in the Senate and saw the futility of putting energy into the Vermont Republican Party. Its a game to far too many. Far too much shallow thinking with little ability to connect the dots.

  4. Senator Benning has before him a choice – to preserve life or to destroy life, anything that compromises the unborn baby’s right to life is and should be unacceptable. Joe Benning shows no courage whatsoever in using the power of his office to offer up a banner of acquiescence.

    • He is gutless. The big picture here is the gift of procreation. It’s creating life. Taking that gift for granted by a group of self appointed demigods who supplant their warped liberal views for God’s design is so inhuman it has to be pure evil at work. I can only hope, that upon the death of every legislator who has anything to do with this death sentence becoming law, that every thought of you held by anyone who has known you is aborted. Just as you prevent a defenseless, helpless child from ever laughing or shedding a tear, may all signs of your existence be obliterated.

  5. These bills H57 & S25 are nothing more than control over people, in that the gov knows best for all. Most laws are stupid without research or common sense. These bills are part of the cradle (if thy make it) to grave control. Keep it simple and the decision of the family (or otherwise). These Bills should never have been introduced, it takes stupid people to do so. What’s their aim? Soros money?

    This mentality is like what the Romans did, took undesirable babies to the country side for animals. China wanted only male babies for a while. Vermont is projected to do the same with this crap legislation. Too bad they weren’t taken to the hills.

  6. You are right that the Vermont House and Senate seem bent on infanticide. Under Senate Proposal 3, sounds as if abortion would become an explicit constitutional right. What rights will our babies have? Joe, go smoke some more weed.

  7. Sadly the sponsors of this legislation are more consistent in values than this author. Once we give the state the power to define different value to different sectors of human life (people), all bets are off. What is the rationale for one day you can kill the pre-born baby, but the next day you cannot. We no longer live in the dark ages. Either human life at any stage is valuable or everything is up to those with power. What type of a country do you want? As for me, I will do what I can to promote a nation that values individual human life. Everything hinges on that. Individual liberty is an empty statement if we do not value individual life. The 2nd Amendment and Article 16 right to self-defense have no staying power once we give the state the power to say certain people do not have a right such a defense for their lives. At least the radical left is consistent, even if frighteningly consistent.

    • I do hope that whomever votes for this legislation meets the same fate in eternity as the image of Christ received at their behest. Imagine that optic.

  8. Thank you Joe. I hope you are successful in getting the bills amended, stalled or replaced this session.

  9. • Vermont’s House bill H57 goes way beyond Roe vs Wade to the point that abortions are permitted at full term pregnancy, even to the 40th week. Further, it holds health providers and doctors wanting not to execute an abortion, to be outside the law, and subject to criminal prosecution.

    • According to the Guttmacher Institute, a Pro-Abortion think tank, they admit that “most women seeking later terminations are not doing so for reasons of fetal anomaly or life endangerment”.

    • The US is one of only seven countries in the world that allows elective abortions after 20 weeks.
    Further, the number of countries positioning to allow abortions at 40 weeks, 9 months; besides the US is none other than North Korea. Is that good company to be in?

    • Even people on death row are allowed every advantage of appeal and stay of sentence because we do not want to make a terrible mistake and execute an innocent person. A viable baby is certainly innocent. H57 has no such checks and balances for preventing infanticide.

    • Bill H57 is not Vermont taking the high ground to help innocent women, rather it is a bill wanting to become law that would kill viable babies, depriving them of a right to life. A bill restricting health care workers and doctors having a conscience, the right to protect life and live within the law.

  10. As in the start of this article, a woman has a sign ” My Body, My Choice ” It takes this fool
    up to nine months to figure out she doesn’t want a child or maybe she doesn’t understand
    how she became pregnant ??

    It’s her body, where’s her ” Mind ” as it shows she can’t “Think ” for herself, as she needs a
    Liberal Policy to justify her utter disrespect for life.

    In this day and age if you cannot control your sexual emotions and you get knocked-up then
    “shame on you ” with all the birth control available today including the day after pill.

    I guess if you believe that Abortions up to ( full term ) are Ok, then probably your not suited
    to be a ” Mother ” …….. So you should probably consider sterilization !!

    Both these bills ( H57 & S25 ) are pure evil, if our legislators pass this nonsense, they need to
    be aborted from public office, every last one of them

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