- Associated Press - Thursday, April 4, 2019

MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) - The Vermont Senate approved a proposal Thursday to amend the state constitution to ensure women have access to abortion services in the event the U.S. Supreme Court overturns the 1973 case that legalized abortion across the country.

No one spoke against what is known as Proposition 5 during the almost hour-long discussion before it was approved by a vote of 28-2.

Amending the constitution in Vermont is a yearslong process that, if it continues, would culminate with a statewide referendum in 2022.

Supporters made clear that they feel the amendment is needed because Vermont has no underlying law guaranteeing access to an abortion. The state has always relied on Roe V. Wade to ensure women have access to abortion. Some feel that is jeopardy because of the changing makeup of the U.S. Supreme Court.

Some other states rely on privacy protections to guarantee a woman’s access to an abortion, but in many other states lawmakers are considering legislation to restrict or outright ban abortion, lawmakers said.

“When Roe versus Wade falls, and it will, those provisions of private may be called into question,” Democratic State Sen. Ginny Lyons, of the Senate Health and Welfare Committee, said during the debate prior to the vote.

Separately, the Vermont House earlier this year passed a bill to guarantee a woman’s access to an abortion. Legislative leaders say they want to have both pieces of legislation on the books, first a state law protecting abortion, then following that up with the constitutional amendment.

The House bill is pending.

Mary Hahn Beerworth, of the Vermont Right to Life Committee, said Thursday her organization didn’t vigorously oppose the proposal, which she fears could lead to unlimited abortion at any stage of pregnancy. Instead, they will work with lawmakers when the proposed amendment is being considered in the House or in the run-up to the 2022 referendum.

“We consider that an opportunity to expose a lot of what is really happening,” Beerworth said.

Republican-leaning states across the country have been working to start new legal battles that could prompt the U.S. Supreme Court to revisit its 1973 decision that legalized abortion. Alabama, for example, recently introduced legislation that would make performing an abortion at any stage of pregnancy a felony unless the mother’s health is in jeopardy.

Kentucky and Mississippi have approved bans on abortion once the fetal heartbeat is detected, which happens as soon as the sixth week of pregnancy. Other states, including Georgia and South Carolina, could enact similar bans.

To pass, the Vermont proposal needed 20 votes in the 30-member House. To continue the process of amending the constitution, it must now be approved by a majority in the House. If approved by the House, the measure would then have to be approved a second time by the Legislature elected in 2020 before it would go before voters in a statewide referendum in November 2022.

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