Leaders and staff of several Vermont businesses, including the University of Vermont Health Network, indicated their support on Wednesday for an amendment to the Vermont constitution that would enshrine the right to abortion.
According to Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, more than 1,300 people, businesses and organizations have joined a list endorsing the Reproductive Liberty Amendment, which will be put before voters in November.
Vermont’s Senate and House of Representatives have voted in favor of letting Vermonters be heard on the amendment. If approved, Vermont will be the first state to add protections for reproductive rights to its constitution.
Jordan Giaconia, public policy manager at Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility, said he wanted Vermonters to know about the economic benefits of supporting reproductive rights.
“In short, a Vermonter who can make decisions about their own reproductive health care, including whether to become a parent, use temporary or permanent birth control or seek abortion care is a Vermonter with greater control over their economic well-being. Having access to the full range of reproductive health care helps them control their lives, their health and their futures and we’re all better for it, ”he said.
Giaconia added that the economic burden of raising a child falls disproportionately on women and that someone denied access to abortion is more likely to experience household poverty and their children are more likely to live below the federal poverty level.
Donna Carpenter, co-founder, owner and chair of Burton, referred to an editorial she wrote in February in which she was open about having an abortion before the Burlington-based company, known for its snowboards, was established. She said she has thought about how different her life would have been “had that not been a safe and legal option for me.”
“I experienced on a personal level that in order to achieve our full potential, women have to have reproductive freedom. This is important to Burton as a company because Burton is a leader in our industry in terms of gender equity, ”she said.
Carpenter said more than 40% of the leaders at Burton are women and half of the members of the senior team are women.
“It is more difficult and retain young women if you are in a state that’s hostile to women’s reproductive rights,” she added.
Chris Miller, global head of advocacy at Ben & Jerry’s, thanked organizations that indicated support for the amendment including the Vermont Public Interest Research Group, the state’s NAACP chapters and the ACLU.
“Both myself and all of us at Ben & Jerry’s are proud of Vermont for leading the way on this issue and, at the same time, disappointed that we find ourselves at a time when despite overwhelming national support for access to reproductive health services, policymakers in a number of states are attempting to end access to this basic right, ”he said.
Like others speaking at the press conference, Miller said the issue was a “business imperative” at a time when Vermont companies are trying to achieve gender equity. Miller said Ben & Jerry’s offers health care that covers reproductive health but said in some states where they have stores, the services are limited and unavailable.
That makes it increasingly more complicated for us to hire, retain and recruit talent in those places and puts the entire business community in those places both at a competitive disadvantage to other states as well as makes it more complicated for us to continue to pursue our commitment to gender equity, ”he said.
Dr. Lauren MacAfee, with the University of Vermont Health Network, said her organization believes decisions about medical care, including reproductive issues, “are the concern of the patient and their provider.”
“We strive to best meet our patients needs through evidence-based practices and high-quality care and through shared decision making which allows us to take into account our patients’ values and priorities,” she said.
MacAfee said she takes pride in “meeting (her) patient where they are” but said she had worked in states where reproductive freedom was not supported.
“I’ve seen first hand the negative impacts on patients and their families when they’re not able to access the health care, including reproductive health care, that they desire. I’ve seen patients suffer unnecessary complications, be waved from seeking medical care, financial hardship and other significant complications as a result of this restricted access, ”she said.
The questions that will be put before voters in November will state, “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. ”
On the web, there is more information about the Reproductive Liberty Amendment at reprolibertyvt.org which includes a tab with “Endorsements.”
patrick.mcardle @ rutlandherald.com