Lynn LaFleur: What is a man’s right to ‘personal reproductive autonomy’?

This commentary is by Lynn LaFleur, a resident of Stowe.

Reading Proposal 5/Article 22 in preparing to vote for or against this proposed constitutional amendment come November, I have to ask: What does a man’s right to “personal reproductive autonomy” look like, especially when it “shall not be denied or infringed” by the laws of Vermont?

A man’s role in reproduction is to impregnate women. Am I the only one seeing a major problem here?

I know Proposal 5 is being sold to Vermonters as somehow codifying Roe v. Wade into the Vermont Constitution, but the actual language of Proposal 5 has nothing to do with Roe v. Wade. It’s weird and I think highly problematic.

Don’t take my word for it; here’s what Proposal 5 says: “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.”

If the goal of Proposal 5 is supposed to be protecting a woman’s right to choose an abortion or to do with her own body what she chooses, why doesn’t it say that? Why doesn’t it use the word “woman” or, to take the more politically correct language from Vermont’s current abortion law, Act 47, which actually does protect a women’s rights, “the person who becomes pregnant”? Then it would be clear what we’re talking about.

If it’s about everyone’s “bodily” autonomy, why doesn’t it use that word? That too would make it clear that a woman (or a man, but in the case of abortion just the woman) has a right to do with her body what she sees fit.

But Proposal 5 doesn’t say that; it says “individual” — meaning men and women equally — and it says “reproductive” — meaning the act of reproduction.

So, I will ask again, what exactly does a man’s right to “individual reproductive autonomy” look like, why are we giving men such a right on an equal legal plane as women, and, more importantly, how will this new right be interpreted by the courts? You know, like the court that just overturned Roe v. Wade?

Following the Dobbs Supreme Court decision, I would be happy to create a state constitutional amendment protecting a woman’s 50-year-old right to choose (or not to choose) an abortion along the lines of Roe. I have absolutely no desire or intention to create for men a brand new, undefined constitutional right to “personal reproductive autonomy … that shall not be denied or infringed.” This seems counterproductive to women’s rights. 

Being interviewed on the Morning Drive radio show, state Rep. Anne Pugh, who dealt with Proposal 5 for three years in her committee, said about the odd language, “If there are different interpretations of language, then the courts will first look to plain language, you know, to the dictionary, and then they will make their own assertions.” 

Until someone can absolutely assure me that future jurists along the lines of Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito will “make their own assertions” about this language in a non-misogynistic way, I’m a hard pass on Proposal 5. Why give them the chance to assert? 

Even if future judges and juries do interpret this language in a way that protects women’s rights, how many women are going to have to go through the trauma of defending themselves in civil court because a man says she violated his constitutional right to reproductive autonomy by …  use your imagination! 

Protecting women’s rights has never been more critical. Creating a constitutional amendment that gives men a new right to reproductive autonomy equal to that of women seems like a darn strange and awfully foolish way to do it. Though I’m sure the authors’ intent was to protect women’s rights with Proposal 5, they sadly bungled execution.

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