Reproductive and Gender-Affirming Healthcare

I am honored to once again serve South Burlington in the Vermont State House and I thank the voters of District 12 for their support. This biennium, I will be taking on additional responsibilities as the chair of the House Judiciary Committee. In that role, I have guided the Committee in deliberations on the legislature’s response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s opinion overruling Roe v. Wade, which left the protection of reproductive rights to individual states. Under the reasoning of this case, the protection of other rights, such as gender-affirming health care, is also left to the states.

Vermonters understood the threat that the U.S. Supreme Court posed to reproductive liberty and wisely started work on protecting these rights over four years ago. That work culminated this past November in the voters overwhelmingly approving a constitutional amendment protecting reproductive rights and bodily autonomy.

In addition to curtailing or barring access to reproductive health care, many states have attempted to limit access for LGBTQ+ youth to gender-affirming health care, such as puberty blockers. For example, last year the Alabama governor signed a bill into law that prohibits transgender minors from receiving gender-affirming care. The bill also provides that anyone who engages in or causes a transgender minor to receive such care faces a felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison or a fine up to $15,000. In contrast, in a resolution last year, the Vermont legislature condemned the actions of states that ban best practice medical care for transgender youth and prosecute parents for seeking such essential care for their children. It further committed to exploring all available options to ensure that transgender youth and their families are safe in Vermont to make the best medical care decisions for themselves in consultation with their health care providers.

With the introduction of H.89, the House is now poised to take the next step in protecting access to reproductive health care as well as gender-affirming health care. H.89 would create a so-called Shield Law to protect Vermont doctors, nurses, and others who are providing reproductive or gender-affirming health care that is legal here in Vermont. The law would also provide protections to patients receiving this health care from Vermont clinicians.

States that have passed or are passing laws restricting reproductive or gender-affirming health care are creating civil sanctions against those involved in providing such health care, even criminalizing such care. And they are also likely to try to use these sanctions to stop such care from happening beyond their borders. When their residents come to Vermont and receive reproductive or gender-affirming care, these states may try to hold Vermont providers criminally or civilly liable.

H.89 would check this overreach by other states. It would advance protections against abusive lawsuits against a person providing health care that is legally protected in Vermont or a patient receiving that care from a Vermont provider.

The bill includes several provisions: Under the bill, Vermont courts could not order anyone to give testimony or a statement or produce documents for use in connection with abusive litigation targeting legally protected health care. All public agencies in Vermont would be barred from cooperating in an interstate investigation or proceeding that tries to impose liability for obtaining or providing legally protected health care. Vermonters could sue anyone who interferes with someone obtaining or providing legally protected health care in Vermont. There would be a new misdemeanor crime for physically interfering with someone obtaining or providing legally protected health care in Vermont. The bill would also maintain the confidentiality of the addresses of patients who receive and clinicians who provide legally protected health care.

The House Judiciary Committee has been taking testimony on these and other provisions to understand how they uphold Vermont’s public policy of ensuring the legal right to access reproductive and gender-affirming health care services in a way that complies with the Constitution. A separate bill to be introduced in the Senate will also ensure that medical professionals do not face punishment from licensing boards for providing abortion care that is legal in Vermont but banned in another state. The bill will also ensure that such providers do not face higher medical malpractice insurance premiums.