The Deeper Dig: Who decides on reproductive rights


People crowd the halls of the Statehouse before a public hearing on an abortion rights bill.

People crowd the halls of the Statehouse before a public hearing on an abortion rights bill in Montpelier on Feb. 6. Photo by Glenn Russell/VTDigger

The Deeper Dig is a weekly podcast from the VTDigger newsroom. Listen below, and subscribe on Apple PodcastsGoogle PlaySpotify or anywhere you listen to podcasts.

[O]ver two days of debate on a sweeping abortion rights bill this week, House lawmakers’ opinions on reproductive access were front and center.

The chamber passed H.57, a bill that would protect abortion rights without restriction, on a 106-37 vote.

“It’s about just simply codifying existing practice,” House Speaker Mitzi Johnson said before the start of the floor debate on Wednesday. “It’s pretty straightforward.” Current state law does not place restrictions on abortion access.

But dissenting voices forced House members to confront questions about how the broad new protections could affect abortion procedures generations into the future. At least two amendments, which were voted down alongside several others, would have limited abortion access to the first 24 weeks of a pregnancy.

The debate placed scrutiny on current practices around abortion care late in pregnancy. Democrats and medical providers stressed that third trimester abortions are rare, and patients considering them are typically weighing major risk factors.

“People don't take this lightly,” says Dr. Ira Bernstein, the chair of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Vermont Medical Center. “I think that anybody who believes that women come into this with a cavalier attitude doesn't understand the process.”

Bernstein says the hospital has strict practices for terminating pregnancies at various stages. After 23 weeks, any request for a procedure requires a “broader review” by a panel that includes both medical staff and hospital ethicists. The panel considers risk factors for both the mother and child, he says, and every case is different.

Bernstein says that while the proposed law wouldn’t alter this decision-making process as it stands, he believes doctors, rather than lawmakers, should be establishing the limits.

“I make decisions about health care every day in my interaction with patients,” he says. “I do not need government, nor do I think it's particularly helpful for government, to help provide guidelines for clinical care.”

On this week’s podcast, Bernstein discusses the doctor-patient considerations that he says get lost in abstract discussions about abortion policy. Plus, VTDigger’s Xander Landen describes the political ramifications of this week’s debate.

Missing out on the latest scoop? Sign up for Final Reading for a rundown on the day's news in the Legislature.


Did you know VTDigger is a nonprofit?

Our journalism is made possible by member donations. If you value what we do, please contribute and help keep this vital resource accessible to all.

Mike Dougherty

About Mike

Mike Dougherty is a senior editor at VTDigger leading the politics team. He is a DC-area native and studied journalism and music at New York University. Prior to joining VTDigger, Michael spent two years as a program coordinator for the Vermont Humanities Council. Before moving to Vermont in 2015, he spent seven years managing recording operations for the oral history nonprofit StoryCorps, assisted Magnum photographer Susan Meiselas, and contributed to the Brooklyn-based alt-weekly L Magazine.

Email: [email protected]

Send us your thoughts

VTDigger is now accepting letters to the editor. For information about our guidelines, and access to the letter form, please click here.


Recent Stories

Thanks for reporting an error with the story, "The Deeper Dig: Who decides on reproductive rights"
  • Hidden
  • Hidden
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.