Bruce Clauson: What happened to the backlash when Roe v. Wade was overturned?

This commentary is by Bruce Clauson, a director of Brattleboro Common Sense.

I'm concerned and very disappointed that the Roe v. Wade debacle seems to have been forgotten lately by everyone. Where are our activists? 

The last Brattleboro Selectboard meeting had five people who attended and spoke, all in favor of the abortion resolution. (Crickets.) No excuse. You can speak up on Zoom wherever you are. 

Aug. 2 at 6:15 p.m., 230 Main St., or Zoom (selectboard meetings code 12261753 Get there; show your opinion or the selectboard members will go with their own. 

The Fourteenth Amendment is being eroded. We need to speak up about abortion and civil rights, which are under attack now. Rights have been taken away that have never been abridged before. 

The Texas abortion vigilante law is ugly and clever, reaching outside the jurisdiction of the state. Now we need forceful action to defend women’s rights. By funding national abortion rights advocacy and legal defense, Brattleboro can take effective action beyond our borders in response.

The religious right has gained influence in the Supreme Court. Pro-life activism is innovative and aggressive. Few people on the left will deny that the political situation is urgent. But civilians and officials fail to really believe in any emergency, it seems, whether the emergency is about climate or housing or women's rights. 

At the July 19 Brattleboro Selectboard meeting about a pro-choice abortion resolution, board members Elizabeth McLoughlin and Dan Quipp worried about resolutions being ineffective. But both of them had voted for the ineffective energy committee letter in November 2020 that supported the Paris accords. Ms. McLoughlin herself pointed out that the board had already made a resolution for that in 2017, also ineffectual and outside their jurisdiction. 

The board members complained that the committee's letter was "unsubstantial." So, their hesitation seemed inconsistent. 

The board wants a substantial commitment on abortion. Here it is. Brattleboro Common Sense has proposed an amendment to the resolution, allocating $105,000 for Planned Parenthood and the national activism of Pro-Choice America and local activism. (The sustainability coordinator was first funded at $100,000.) 

We will also propose an amendment for a legal defense fund for victims of abortion vigilante laws. Selectboard member Jessica Gelter proposed the resolution and supports the funding amendment. Chairman Ian Goodnow at least favors the resolution.

But some members of the board worried about excluding the Representative Town Meeting from voting on the funds. (If a Representative Town Meeting vote is desired, the representatives can assemble on a month's notice.) 

They said that the Human Services Committee should handle the funding. (The committee funding is capped and completely spent every year. Even if there were more money available through the committee, it would take effect next July. Is waiting 11 months the way to address a crisis?)

Getting the money is no problem if the will is there. Emergency funding did the repairs after Hurricane Irene, and the Representative Town Meeting was not consulted. It was an emergency. 

Funds can come from the unassigned fund balance. There is no policy about requirements for using the unassigned fund balance. Town government writes the checks and can decide later by legislation to take the funds from the balance or raise taxes to defray the cost. 

The real problem is something else: The urgency of the situation is not important enough for some board members to put their personal concerns aside.

Daniel Quipp said he doesn’t want people thinking he promised legal protections and care here in Brattleboro. Piffle! No one thinks the resolution would be a personal commitment from him. And Ms. McLoughlin said, “I feel the selectboard is a nonpartisan body. I don’t think it’s appropriate for us to be influencing that decision or even share what our beliefs and wishes are.” She has said that supporting Democrats is the one and only strategy for all progress, and she has been consistent in this respect. 

Anyone can hold those opinions, but this is representative government. In case of an emergency resolution like this, the board’s wisdom would come not in advancing its own opinion, but in knowing the opinions of the people. But their main point shows some integrity. This is a mild isolationist attitude. 

But the board members must not misunderstand their place in the process. This is not about their opinions, and not everything presses on their shoulders. 

Three examples: In 2018, Brattleboro Common Sense filed a petition for a resolution to create an energy/sustainability coordinator, and it was funded by the Representative Town Meeting. Then the board followed with the details and the hiring. Second, in 2017 the Representative Town Meeting approved a resolution to ban plastic bags. The board followed up by drafting the plastic bag ordinance. In 2009, the selectboard blocked petitions that the members personally opposed, and Brattleboro Common Sense took them to court. The court decision now protects the petitions of individuals and organizations in Brattleboro from censorship by town government. The people decide for themselves what they think is important. 

This principle must prevail now. The amended abortion resolution will not complete the process. If the selectboard approves the resolution with the funding amendment, it must then follow through to specify the funding and legalities. If board members are in doubt about what the people feel, then they should arrange a vote of the people. But they should have no doubt about their duty or what the people feel.

Two members of the board were reluctant to help Brattleboro express its opinion. If this matter were only about sharing an opinion that everyone expects, Brattleboro Common Sense would agree that it is not so important. But it is more than that. Brattleboro Common Sense believes in the power of ideas and in the voice of Brattleboro. Our mission is to amplify the voice of Brattleboro. 

In this matter, it is urgent to put the financial power of the town behind our voice. The resolution with funding protects women inside and outside Brattleboro by funding Planned Parenthood and the national activism of Pro-Choice America (and local activism). It defends people who are victimized by the Texas abortion bounty law and similar laws. 

These actions are urgently needed, and if they start in Brattleboro and reach outside, then good! We must grow and try. The other way is like giving up.

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