Home Commentary A Lie Arrived in the Mail 

A Lie Arrived in the Mail 

By Tori Rhodin

A large multicolored postcard arrived in my mailbox recently, purportedly from “Vermonters for Good Government.” The elaborately illustrated postcard, with huge capital letters and unreliable punctuation, claims that Article 22 — which will establish the right to reproductive freedom in the Vermont State Constitition — “is intended to put late-term abortion of fully-developed babies into the Vermont Constitution.”

Whoever wrote that postcard is spreading a lie. I called the phone number on the postcard, and left a message.  Several weeks later, no one had yet returned my call.

Anyone familiar with reproductive medicine knows that abortion in the third trimester is extremely rare and occurs under desperate conditions. For many years, pregnant people in this terrible situation (usually where continuing the pregnancy is expected to kill the mother or the fetus or both) have needed to travel to clinics in far-flung parts of the United States where there is a physician adequately trained and experienced in providing this care. Dr. George Tiller, murdered by an anti-abortion gunman some years back, was one of those few. (In fact, only about 10% of all abortions in the United States occur later than 12 or 13 weeks gestation, and the percentage occurring after 24 weeks is minuscule.)

Contrary to the lie promoted in the mail, the intention of Article 22 is to ensure that, in Vermont, the decision whether to continue a pregnancy remains between the pregnant person and their health care provider, and that no politician can join them in the consultation room.

Joshua Chamberlain responded to my Front Porch forum post asking if anyone knows who “Vermonters for Good Government” is.

“Vermonters for Good Government [is an] anti-abortion group formed and operated by members of Vermont Right to Life Committee and the Roman Catholic Diocese of Burlington,” he wrote, adding:

“From the Vermont Political Observer: ‘Let’s turn to the Secretary of State’s nonprofit registry. Vermonters for Good Government, Inc., has three listed principals: [Sharon] Toborg, [Norman C.] Smith, and Peter Gummere. Toborg is one of the leaders of [VRLC]. Smith is an attorney who has, among other things, testified before the Legislature against Prop. 5 and against the right-to-die legislation that became law several years ago. Gummere is a deacon in the Catholic Church; he testified before the Legislature on H.57, the abortion rights law that preceded Prop. 5.” (thevpo.org/2022/04/11/vermont-right-to-life-practices-the-art-of-not-being-seen/)

In a commentary in VTDigger published Sept. 27, 2022, Chamberlain goes on to say:  

“If we consult the Vermont Campaign Finance System (campaignfinance.vermont.gov), we learn that three donors are responsible for 88% of the organization’s bankroll — $200,000 in total: Lenore Broughton, Carol Breuer, and the Roman Catholic Diocese of Burlington.” 

I was 19 when the Supreme Court established the right to abortion in the United States. I had lived my early life in a state where abortion was illegal. In high school, everyone knew who the one doctor in our area was who could be counted on to perform abortions for people who did not want to be pregnant or parent. When I started college, abortion became legal in New York, two hours away by train. The feminist organization at my college provided education and support to fellow students who needed to access this essential medical care; the college health service refused to provide contraception to unmarried students. 

I knew of one woman doctor in my hometown, a city the size of Burlington. Some of the families in my neighborhood took their kids to her, but my family had a different doctor, so I hadn’t met a female doctor until college. Nor had I met a woman lawyer, carpenter, mechanic until long after I left home. I’m saying this to illustrate the very narrow vocational landscape open to women then, as a reminder of how radically things changed once women’s education, training, and work were no longer derailed by unintended pregnancy and child-bearing. 

For years I was a clinical social worker and mental health consultant for the OB-GYN clinic of a tertiary care hospital. My job included counseling people about whether to continue a deeply wanted pregnancy in a situation of severe fetal anomaly or risk to the woman’s health. Many such conditions are not diagnosed until 18 or more weeks into pregnancy. Terminating a pregnancy after about 22 weeks — a time frame allowing for testing, test results, counseling, informed decision-making, and scheduling an appointment — required travel to Massachusetts. Hospitals and clinics in Vermont and New Hampshire didn’t have the capacity to perform abortions that late in pregnancy. 

One person terminated a pregnancy to be able to access life-saving chemotherapy for cancer. An abortion in the third trimester (something I heard of exactly once during all the years I did this work) because of a lethal fetal anomaly) required travelling to one of three clinics thousands of miles away. I also provided support for clinicians in maternal-fetal medicine who struggled with the emotional and moral issues involved in any action that saves life by ending life. All these things look very different from five or six feet away, our hearts open to one another in a way they don’t on the back of a postcard composed by someone whose life has not been touched by these concerns.

I once accompanied a young person to Planned Parenthood in Burlington to terminate a pregnancy. I sat all day with the kid, who hadn’t noticed signs of pregnancy until late in gestation, so their local clinic sent them two hours north for care. The older man who’d impregnated them didn’t show up. Years later I learned he had held a gun to their head. This is a heart-breaking but probably not unusual situation. It is also one of the reasons abortion care can’t require parental consent or a police report: too often the “father” is also the pregnant person’s father or stepfather, uncle, brother, mom’s boyfriend, teacher, or someone else with authority or power over the pregnant person or their family. Years have gone by: the child grew up, got to finish school, married, is making a living and, now that they’re an adult, is happily raising a family.

Article 22 is just one sentence:

“The right to personal reproductive autonomy is central to the liberty protected by this Constitution and shall not be denied or infringed unless justified by a compelling State interest achieved by the least restrictive means.”

That’s all it says.

Vermont’s legislature approved Article 22 by an overwhelming majority over the course of two sessions. After four years in the legislature, it now goes to voters. I urge you to vote based on the truth as you understand it, and not on lies. The postcards from Vermonters for Good Government are lies, not truth.

Tori Rhodin is a clinical social worker in private practice in Montpelier, where she lives with her spouse. Much of her work focuses on mental health issues in pregnancy and postpartum, fertility concerns and reproductive decision-making, as well as adoptive family development.