This week, state senators in Vermont introduced legislation that would re-affirm the right to abortion. It represents the latest proactive piece of legislation to expand reproductive rights, rather than restrict them.
Vermont still has outdated anti-abortion laws on the books that make the procedure illegal. Although that legislation isn’t able to be enforced while Roe stands, it’s still technically codified into state law. The new bill, S 315, would repeal those old laws and acknowledge women’s right to choose under Roe, the first step to preventing future state-level attacks on the procedure. A similar measure failed to advance during the last session.
The lawmakers sponsoring S 315 put abortion rights in the larger context of ensuring that Vermont residents have access to the health care they need. “As the State of Vermont implements major health care reform, it should be a public policy goal to enhance the health of all citizens, including women of all ages, and to strengthen individuals and families by encouraging and promoting access to comprehensive reproductive health services, to prenatal support services that help ensure that planned pregnancies remain healthy throughout their entire term, and to safe and legal abortion,” the bill states.
Even though abortion has been legal under Roe v. Wade for nearly 41 years, state laws on the issue vary widely. According to the Guttmacher Institute, Vermont is one of 12 states that retain their outdated, pre-Roe bans on abortions. Others have actually been proactive about capitalizing on potential attacks on the right to choose that may happen in the future. Four states — Louisiana, Mississippi, North Dakota, and South Dakota — have enacted laws that would immediately ban the procedure if Roe were ever overturned.
Vermont isn’t the only state that may actually advance abortion rights this year. Proactive legislation is also in the works in Pennsylvania, New York, and Virginia. Last year, California made national headlines for taking several steps forward to expand abortion access. These states stand in sharp contrast to the rest of the nation; over 200 restrictions on abortion have been enacted in the past three years alone.
Some reproductive rights advocates are hopeful that the tide is starting to turn. “I think we’re going to sort of hit our stride in 2014. We’re going to see a lot more offensive legislation,” Ilyse Hogue, the president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, told ThinkProgress in an interview last week.