By Tyler O’Neil | The Daily Signal
The transgender agenda appears to have weaseled its way onto the ballot in two states, but voters may not know it. Hidden in the language of two proposed state constitutional amendments is a “right” to transgender medical interventions that would undermine parental rights and make children vulnerable to “treatments” that would leave them scarred, stunted, and infertile, critics allege.
Michigan’s Proposal 3 would establish a “fundamental right to reproductive freedom” in the state constitution. The proposal’s text says this “entails the right to make and effectuate decisions about all matters relating to pregnancy, including but not limited to prenatal care, childbirth, postpartum care, contraception, sterilization, abortion care, miscarriage management, and infertility care” (emphasis added).
The state’s Planned Parenthood chapter has disputed the claim that this amendment to the Michigan Constitution would have any impact on what it calls “gender-affirming care for minors.”
Vermont’s Proposal 5, which would add a new Article 22 to the Vermont Constitution, states “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.”
Neither measure stipulates that the reproductive “right” in question applies only to adults above age 18, and neither says that it applies only to women or to abortion. Critics argue that the inclusion of sterilization in the Michigan list is deliberate, and that both constitutional amendments would enable courts to declare controversial transgender medical interventions a fundamental “right” for minors, excluding their parents from such decisions.
Michigan’s Proposal 3 specifically mentions “sterilization” and says that “every individual has a fundamental right to reproductive freedom.” Supporters have praised the measure for eliminating laws requiring parental notification in a minor’s abortion decisions, and opponents argue that the elimination of parental rights also would extend to transgender issues. One of the organizations that helped craft the measure told The Daily Signal that it would “have no impact” on transgender issues, however.
Organizations that support the amendment, such as the ACLU of Michigan and Planned Parenthood Advocates of Michigan, state explicitly online and in a “Frequently Asked Questions” document that the constitutional amendment would “repeal parental notification of abortion for minors.”
“Proposal 3 is a constitutional amendment that would repeal Michigan’s parental consent laws, allowing children to have abortions and undergo gender hormone treatments without parental consent or knowledge,” Christen Pollo, a spokeswoman for Citizens to Support MI Women & Children, an organization opposing the amendment, told The Daily Signal. She noted the ACLU and Planned Parenthood documents.
“A constitutional right to ‘sterilization’ presumably includes a right to be sterilized to align one’s sex and gender identity,” John Bursch, vice president of appellate advocacy and senior counsel at Alliance Defending Freedom and a former solicitor general of Michigan, wrote in the Detroit Free Press. “It’s not clear that Michiganders support a constitutional right to cross-sex sterilization. But it’s certain that a majority would not support a 12-year-old girl’s right to sterilization without her parent’s notice and consent.”
“Regardless of what you think about gender reassignment, the notion that children would be able to undergo gender change surgeries or hormones without parental knowledge is an extreme policy that is not supported by good moms and dads in Michigan,” Pollo told The Daily Signal. “Yet that is exactly what Proposal 3 would allow for. And it should be no surprise that Planned Parenthood is pushing for this: they are now the second-largest provider of gender hormone therapy and have ad campaigns targeting children with puberty blockers.”
“If Proposal 3 passes, this won’t just be where they are headed—it will be a constitutional right,” she added.
A spokesperson for Planned Parenthood Advocates of Michigan contested these arguments, however.
“Proposal 3 would affirm the fundamental right to make and carry out decisions without political interference in matters relating to pregnancy,” the spokesperson told The Daily Signal in a statement Friday. “This includes decisions about birth control, abortion, prenatal care, and childbirth. Proposal 3 would have no impact on gender-affirming care for minors.”
“It is telling that Proposal 3 opponents are trying to make this ballot campaign about anything other than the actual purpose of the proposal,” the spokesperson added. “They know that the clear majority of Michiganders want abortion to remain legal and want women to be able to make their own decisions about birth control, pregnancy and childbirth. They know they can’t win on the facts, so they’re spreading disinformation. Proposal 3 would restore the rights Michiganders had under Roe v. Wade. It’s that simple.”
Although the proposal would restore abortion rights in Michigan, it arguably would go beyond Roe, which allowed states to restrict abortion after the point of fetal viability and impose constraints such as parental consent requirements.
“The bill could easily have been written to refer to abortion explicitly and exclusively,” Jay Richards, senior research fellow in religious liberty and civil society at The Heritage Foundation, told The Daily Signal in response to the Planned Parenthood spokesperson. (The Daily Signal is Heritage’s multimedia news organization.)
“Instead, it refers to some ill-defined right to reproductive freedom,” Richards said. “The only reason to do that is to use the fight over abortion to expand into other jurisdictions of the social revolution. I would also note that many Planned Parenthood facilities dispense cross-sex hormones, so they have a financial stake in gender-transition procedures.”
Michigan’s Democratic attorney general, Dana Nessel, has endorsed the amendment.
“We have to vote yes on Proposal 3,” Nessel said at an October rally during which she opened up about her own experience.
After trying to get pregnant for a while, Nessel said, she finally conceived—triplets. Yet her doctor advised her that she would have to abort one of the babies to save the other two.
“I took my doctor’s advice. I had a procedure, and now I have two beautiful 19-year-old boys,” she recounted.
Pro-life advocates may counter the idea that Nessel’s procedure constitutes the same kind of abortion they would prefer to outlaw, but the attorney general used her experience as an argument, nonetheless. Neither Nessel nor the ACLU of Michigan responded to The Daily Signal’s request for comment on the transgender implications of the proposed constitutional amendment.
Vermont’s Proposal 5 is not technically a ballot initiative but the final step in amending the Vermont Constitution with the addition of Article 22. While the amendment does not include language regarding sterilization, opponents argue that its broad terms open the floodgates for transgender applications.
“I believe the course is clear. Article 22 is meant to purposefully open Pandora’s box and then bar future legislators from doing anything about it,” Matthew Strong, executive director of Vermonters for Good Government, an organization opposing the amendment, told The Daily Signal in an email statement. “Minor/children’s transgender issues is just one of many intended goals with this, and the extreme agendas in the school system are already hard at work on this.”
“The Legislature’s word choice makes the long-term goal very plain,” Strong argued. “By using the word ‘individual’ instead of ‘woman,’ it removes gender and age restrictions on whom this applies to. We allege that this constitutional amendment was written BY Planned Parenthood, FOR Planned Parenthood” (emphasis his).
Strong noted that the speaker of the Vermont House, Jill Krowinski, is a former vice president of Planned Parenthood of Northern New England. Neither Krowinski nor the Planned Parenthood affiliate responded to The Daily Signal’s requests for comment.
Strong noted that Article 22 cleared two votes in each of the state’s two legislative chambers and its appearance on the ballot represents the final step of the process.
“It was rushed through during the pandemic and very few Vermonters knew about it,” Strong said.
State Rep. Anne Donahue, R-Washington County, a spokeswoman for Vermonters for Good Government and a critic of the measure, highlighted an exchange that took place as the Legislature considered the amendment.
“Even the proponents have stated that anything in terms of future interpretation will be ‘up to the courts’ —in this case, the Vermont Supreme Court,” Donahue told The Daily Signal.
She argued that “‘Reproductive autonomy’ is an ever-evolving term, not set in time and certainly not limited to what anyone claims it might mean today. Quite literally anything that is related to reproduction in any way is wide open to inclusion, and anything interpreted as a barrier to access to that right would be open to being found unconstitutional.”
“Courts do look for evidence of legislative intent when language is open to interpretation, and there was direct discussion about keeping it available to future health care interpretation and a specific choice to not place limiting language to specify direct enumerated rights,” Donahue added. “There is also clear intent about access for minors, including without parental consent or even notice. Because minors currently are protected in access to abortion (without parental consent or notice)—with limitations rejected by the Legislature in 2019—that would be used for equivalence to any other reproductive rights, including surgical ones.”
Donahue highlighted an exchange from January, in which state Rep. Carl Rosenquist, R-Franklin County, raised concerns about religious liberty and worries that the proposed constitutional amendment would “compel private health care providers to provide care that violates their moral or religious beliefs.”
State Rep. Ann Pugh, D-Chittenden County, a lead sponsor of the amendment, responded: “My understanding is [that] when rights are in conflict, we go to court. And that is the role of the courts to decide, or a judge.”
Rosenquist was presenting “a conflict of rights,” Pugh said.
An ACLU representative agreed, saying, “Yes, that is the correct response.”
Proposal 5 “encompasses more than just abortion. It protects both women and men,” Vermont Solicitor General Eleanor Spottswood said. “The language of Proposal 5 is actually based on a long line of case law, protecting the rights to choose or refuse contraception, to choose or refuse sterilization, the right to become pregnant and the right to choose abortion.”
Spottswood added that “difficult cases where fundamental rights of different parties are pitted against each other are decided by the courts.”
Pugh defended the constitutional amendment as necessary to provide clarity.
“In this turbulent time, we must have clarity,” Pugh said in October, Vermont Business Magazine reported. “The lack of a definitive enumeration of reproductive liberty in Vermont’s Constitution, the threats to Roe v. Wade being weakened or overturned by a very conservative U.S. Supreme Court, and the cloud of multistate efforts to erode reproductive autonomy all build a strong case for [Proposal] 5.”
The state lawmaker noted that Vermont has “intentionally chosen not to limit or restrict” access to abortion. “We have long recognized that decisions related to reproductive health care and abortion are deeply personal and private, and are best left to a woman and her doctor,” she said.
Neither Pugh nor Spottswood responded to The Daily Signal’s requests for comment. Sen. Becca Balint, D-Windham County, and Sen. Tim Ashe, D-Chittenden County, the lead sponsors of the amendment, also did not respond.
Vermont for Reproductive Liberty, the campaign in support of the constitutional amendment, did not respond to The Daily Signal’s request for comment on the transgender issue.
Vermont Gov. Phil Scott, a Republican, has endorsed the amendment.
“Vermont has a long tradition of supporting a woman’s right to choose,” Scott said in a prepared statement in July about the amendment’s proceeding to the November ballot. “These decisions are deeply personal and belong between a woman and her health care provider, free from government interference.”
“In Vermont, we solidified the right to choose in law, and now Vermonters have the opportunity to further protect that right in our constitution,” Scott said. “It is more important than ever to make sure the women in our state have the right to make their own decisions about their health, bodies, and their futures.”
Scott’s office did not respond to The Daily Signal’s request for comment about transgender fallout from the amendment.
Michigan and Vermont aren’t the only states with abortion-related measures on the ballot Tuesday.
Kentuckians will vote on a constitutional amendment expressly stating that there is no right to abortion. Montanans will vote on a measure declaring that infants born alive at any stage of development are legal persons.
Californians, meanwhile, will vote on a constitutional amendment stating that the state can’t “deny or interfere with an individual’s reproductive freedom in their most intimate decisions,” including abortion and contraceptives.
Heritage’s Richards told The Daily Signal that the Michigan and Vermont ballot questions allow for expansive interpretation for transgender issues, while the California one does not.
“My sense is that the Vermont bill has precisely the same problems as the Michigan bill, and almost certainly intentionally,” Richards said. “Vermont just talks about ‘reproductive autonomy’ while Michigan talks about ‘reproductive freedom,’ which, as we’ve noted, almost certainly includes everything from taxpayer-funded contraception and surrogacy to gender transition procedures.”
Meanwhile, he noted, “California’s seems to be focused mainly on abortion and contraceptives. But there’s a reason that California can be more specific: The state has already passed a law making the state a magnet for teens seeking cross-sex hormones and gender-reassignment surgery. So the California Left has no need to sneak that in with vague wording in a bill presumably about abortion.”
Transgender medical interventions for children have become a divisive political issue. Although transgender activists argue that children are more likely to commit suicide if schools and parents don’t encourage their transgender identities, it remains unclear whether affirmation and controversial medical interventions actually help students with gender dysphoria.
Medical interventions can have dangerous lifelong effects, even those that do not involve the surgical removal of healthy sex organs. So-called puberty blockers, for example, actually introduce a disease into a patient’s body, according to Dr. Michael Laidlaw, an endocrinologist in Rocklin, California. Hypogonadotropic hypogonadism occurs when the brain fails to send the right signal to the gonads to make the hormones necessary for development.
“An endocrinologist might treat a condition where a female’s testosterone levels are going to be outside the normal range,” Laidlaw told PJ Media. “We’ll treat that, and we’re aware of metabolic problems. At the same time, an endocrinologist may be giving high levels of testosterone to a female to ‘transition’ her.”
Cross-sex hormones also can have serious, long-term side effects, increasing the risk of osteoporosis and cardiovascular events.
The idea that minors, who can’t drink, vote, or serve in the military, can nonetheless consent to interventions that may leave them scarred, stunted, and infertile is rightly controversial. These proposed constitutional amendments may involve instituting broad rights that include minors’ access to such “treatments,” opponents argue.