March 26, 2014 — Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin (D) on Monday signed into law a bill (S 317) that repeals a state statute criminalizing abortion that was invalidated by courts many years ago, the Burlington Free Press reports (Hallenbeck, Burlington Free Press, 3/24).
Although the old law was invalidated by a Vermont Supreme Court decision in 1972 and the U.S. Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision in 1973, it remained a state statute. Under the law, doctors who provided abortions could be sentenced to up to 10 years in jail (Women's Health Policy Report, 2/12).
The new measure was unanimously approved by the state Legislature, where lawmakers focused solely on repealing the unconstitutional language, rather than debating abortion rights, according to the Free Press.
Shumlin signed the bill at Planned Parenthood of Northern New England's Burlington office, surrounded by abortion-rights advocates. He said the new law should send a message at a time when other states are restricting abortion rights, adding, "This is Vermont saying not here, not now, not ever."
The attendees at the bill signing included Jackson Beecham, the physician who challenged the old state law and succeeded in having it struck down in 1972 (Burlington Free Press, 3/24). He said he was surprised to learn that the law still existed in the state (Machado, MyChamplainValley, 3/24).
Meanwhile, PPNE CEO and President Meaghan Gallagher said, "Keeping the statutes on the books year after year sends the wrong message about Vermont's views on abortion rights and leaves the state vulnerable to a costly legal challenge or legislative battle down the road."
Further, Vermont Right to Life Committee Executive Director Mary Hahn Beerworth noted that the new measure "will have no effect on the current legal status of abortion" in the state (Burlington Free Press, 3/24).