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Ban on slavery and right to abortion officially added to Vermont Constitution

Peter Hirschfeld
Vermont Public
Gov. Phil Scott, front left, and Secretary of State Jim Condos signed proclamations Tuesday that will officially enroll Proposition 2 and Proposition 5 in the Vermont Constitution. Senate President Pro Tem Becca Balint and House Speaker Jill Krowinski look on from behind.

Top elected officials gathered in the Statehouse Tuesday to formally add two amendments to the Vermont Constitution.

Voters in November overwhelmingly approved one proposition that bans slavery in all forms in the constitution, and another that enshrines access to abortion and “personal reproductive autonomy” in the state’s founding document.

More from Vermont Edition: Why an antislavery amendment, Prop 2, is on the ballot in Vermont

Gov. Phil Scott, who signed the proclamations that made the amendments official, said that as the U.S. Supreme Court rolls back personal freedoms in Washington, D.C., Vermont has shown a willingness strengthen protections for residents here.

“We know we can’t always look to Washington for solutions, which is why our state constitution has always been critically important to us,” Scott said Tuesday.

“For my generation to watch long-held rights get rolled back has been a wakeup call.”
House Speaker Jill Krowinski

More than 100 people turned out for the signing ceremony in the chamber of the House of Representatives.

Among them was Rev. Mark Hughes, executive director of the Vermont Racial Justice Alliance.

His organization spearheaded a yearslong campaign to remove “exception clauses” from the Vermont Constitution that allowed for slavery or indentured servitude under certain circumstances.

Hughes said the anti-slavery amendment, known as Proposition 2, is an important step.

“It’s significant. We don’t take it lightly. We don’t want to underplay it,” he said. “But at the same time, we want to view it as just one step along a long path that we’re taking.”

Hughes said Vermont needs to undertake additional policy and statutory reforms in order to mitigate the effects of systemic racism in the state.

And as the U.S. Supreme Court considers a case that could undo affirmative action, Hughes said Vermont may need to amend its constitution again, to guard against the impacts of that potential ruling.

Proposition 5

For House Speaker Jill Krowinski, the reproductive-rights amendment, called Proposition 5, represents an important counterweight to the Dobbs decision handed down by the U.S. Supreme Court earlier this year.

“For my generation to watch long-held rights get rolled back has been a wakeup call,” Krowinski said. “Seeing how fragile our democracy is has been a wakeup call.”

Outgoing Senate President Pro Tem and Congresswoman-elect Becca Balint said she hopes Vermont’s approach to safeguarding reproductive rights will become a roadmap for other states.

More from Vermont Public: Outraged by Dobbs decision, Vermont neighbors host bike ride for reproductive liberty amendment

“I am so proud to be able to talk to my incoming class in the 118th Congress about the work that we did in Vermont on these two issues, and give them the courage to take up these issues in their home states,” Balint said.

California and Michigan have also passed abortion-rights amendments to their state constitutions since the Dobbs decision was issued.

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The Vermont Statehouse is often called the people’s house. I am your eyes and ears there. I keep a close eye on how legislation could affect your life; I also regularly speak to the people who write that legislation.