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George Till: Dangerous misinformation vs. the facts on elective abortions

This commentary is written by Rep. George Till of Jericho, who is a board-certified obstetrician-gynecologist who has served in the Vermont Legislature since 2008. Dr. Till is also an associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the UVM School of Medicine.  

A lot of misinformation is being circulated regarding the abortion-rights amendment known as Article 22 or Proposal 5, which will appear as a ballot measure on Nov. 8. As a member of the state Legislature and a physician practicing obstetrics and gynecology for 40 years, I would like to offer my perspective. 

In addition to being a member of the Legislature, I serve as the division chief of general OB/GYN at University of Vermont Medical Center, the division responsible for providing termination of pregnancy services at UVMMC. 

Through these roles, I have learned the policies, health implications and political landscape surrounding abortion rights in our state. In summary, legislative restrictions on reproductive rights are a huge risk to women’s overall health.

Pregnancy terminations are very safe procedures, and the earlier in pregnancy they are done, the safer they are. When legislatures restrict access to reproductive health care, including abortion, we see a large overall increase in maternal morbidity and mortality. This is why the passage of of this amendment is so important. It will change nothing about current restrictions regarding pregnancy terminations in Vermont, but only prevent the political imposition of new restrictions in the future.

Perhaps the most common and disturbing piece of misinformation being circulated surrounding Article 22 is the idea that it will remove all restrictions on abortion and “enshrine elective pregnancy termination up to the time of birth.” This is blatantly untrue.   

There currently are and there will continue to be restrictions on abortion procedures in Vermont. What will be enshrined in our Constitution is that politicians (the Legislature and the governor) will not determine what restrictions should be placed on abortion procedures, but rather that these restrictions will be left — as they are now, and as they should be — to the hospitals, professional medical organizations, and the Board of Medical Practice, which set standards of care with which Vermont providers must comply.  

The Board of Medical Practice can revoke a physician’s license for a single episode of “failure to conform to the essential standards of acceptable and prevailing practice.” As such, practitioners are held to evidence-based standards. Additionally, state regulations require that every pregnancy termination be reported to the state, and if beyond 20 weeks, reported with a completed death certificate that requires extensive background information about the parents and medical situation.  

There is not currently, nor will there be due to this amendment, any provider or facility in Vermont doing elective terminations beyond the gestational age of 21 weeks, six days, with 22 weeks being the currently accepted threshold of viability. Very rarely are terminations done after 21 weeks and 6 days in Vermont, and those are done only in the hospital setting at UVMMC. Hospitals are very highly regulated and UVMMC maintains clear guidelines prohibiting elective terminations from 22 weeks onward. 

A pregnancy termination beyond 21 weeks and 6 days in Vermont only occurs in very specific circumstances, including for severe fetal anomaly, a fetal condition incompatible with life, or a dangerous, possibly life-threatening maternal health reason.

If termination is requested beyond 21 weeks and 6 days, an ethics consultation must be obtained to review the indications before the induction of labor or termination can be done. If the Ethics Committee does not agree, the termination is not done. We only do three to five terminations after 21 weeks and 6 days per year at UVMMC. The amendment will not change that.

Some Vermonters may wonder: Why is it important to make this constitutional change if we already have laws protecting reproductive rights in Vermont?   

In the last legislative session, there were no less than five proposed bills that would have restricted reproductive rights in Vermont. One stated specifically: “This bill proposes to narrow the right to reproductive choice.” Without the proposed constitutional amendment, we can expect continued attempts to restrict reproductive rights in every legislative session.

Passage of Article 22/Proposal 5 by popular vote on Nov. 8 would be the final step of this multi-stage process to amend the Vermont Constitution. The measure was originally approved by the House and Senate in the 2019–20 legislative biennium and, as required, was passed again by both chambers in the 2021–22 biennium. These were critical steps to protecting the right to access reproductive services in our state, but they will be meaningless if this amendment is not passed by a popular vote on Nov. 8.

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