Politics

Hundreds rally at Statehouse in support of Proposal 5

People gather on the steps of the Statehouse during a reproductive rights rally in Montpelier on May 14. Photo by Natalie Williams/VTDigger

MONTPELIER — Indi Schoenherr stood on the steps of the Vermont Statehouse and spoke about the rights they were scared of losing.

As a young person, Schoenherr said they’ve grown up with “a sense of security” that, if needed, they could legally access an abortion in the United States. But that sense has eroded in recent years, they said, as other states have passed laws rolling back access to abortion, and the U.S. Supreme Court appears poised to overturn Roe v. Wade. 

Vermonters now have a chance to bolster access to this care, Schoenherr said, by passing the reproductive liberty amendment that will be on their ballots this fall. 

ACLU advocacy fellow Indi Schoenherr speaks in front of the Statehouse. Photo by Natalie Williams/VTDigger

“This is giving us the best opportunity to ensure that the rights we have and rely on today won’t change tomorrow,” said Schoenherr, an advocacy fellow at The American Civil Liberties Union of Vermont. 

Schoenherr was one of hundreds of people who rallied at the Statehouse on Saturday under a beating sun in support of Proposal 5, an amendment to the state’s constitution that would guarantee access to abortion, contraceptives and other reproductive care.

Many in attendance held up homemade signs and wore hats bearing the name of the rally, “Bans Off Our Bodies.” Other signs echoed back to before the Supreme Court’s 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade, with some stating, “We won’t go back.”

Two women standing near the speakers’ podium, Bonnie Acker and Linda Sukolp, held up a large quilted banner stating that “women’s rights are human rights.” 

People pose for a photo during a reproductive rights rally in front of the Statehouse. Photo by Natalie Williams/VTDigger

The Burlington residents said they originally made the banner for the Women’s March, a nationwide protest in 2017 following the election of former President Donald Trump, and were frustrated that current events have led them to break it out again. 

Natasha Eckart Baning was sitting on a picnic blanket on the Statehouse lawn and said she supported Proposal 5 so her young daughter would be able to make reproductive health care decisions for her own body in the future.

“I've had that ability growing up, and I want her to have that ability,” the Worcester resident said. “I don't want any law or politician telling her what's right for her.”

Headlining the speakers on Saturday was U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., who pointed to what he sees as the “outrageous hypocrisy” of his “right-wing colleagues” who decry government interference but support restricting, or banning, access to abortions.

Sen. Bernie Sanders speaks in front of the Statehouse during a reproductive rights rally in Montpelier on Saturday, May 14, 2022. Photo by Natalie Williams/VTDigger

“This struggle has gone on for a very, very long time,” Sanders said. “But what we are saying today, loudly and clearly, is we are not going back. We are going forward.”

Other speakers on Saturday said reproductive health care continues to be seen as an issue solely for cisgender — and often, white — women, but that just isn’t true. 

Kell Arbor, director of health and wellness at the Pride Center of Vermont, said codifying Vermonters’ access to reproductive care would help reduce the stigma that continues to exist around health care for LGBTQ+ people in the state. 

Kell Arbor, director of health and wellness at the Pride Center of Vermont, speaks during a reproductive rights rally in front of the Statehouse. Photo by Natalie Williams/VTDigger

Arbor said it might not have taken so long for them to have been diagnosed with HIV if they had access to health care providers with a better understanding of their gender and sexuality. They said they have received better care in recent years. 

“Nonbinary and trans folks like me, people of color, and people with disabilities, we are extra in need of sexual health and reproductive liberty,” Arbor said. 

Listening to Arbor and the others speak on Saturday was Harry Marek, a transgender man who sees improving access to abortion as a vital issue today.

“It's not just for women but for everyone with a uterus,” the Winooski resident said. “That's why I'm here — to protect that right for people and for myself.”

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Shaun Robinson

About Shaun

Shaun Robinson is a Report for America corps member with a special focus on issues of importance to Franklin and Grand Isle counties. He is a journalism graduate of Boston University, with a minor in political science. His work has appeared in the Boston Globe, the Patriot Ledger of Quincy and the Cape Cod Times.

Email: [email protected]

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