The following was sent to the Vermont statehouse on January 26, 2022, in anticipation of a public hearing on Proposal 5.
The attached is Public Comment on Proposal 5 – Rev. Timothy Naples
I submit this testimony specifically to comment on Proposal 5, which proposes to affirm in the Vermont constitution “an individual’s right to personal reproductive autonomy.”
To be clear and forthright as to my background, I am a pastor in the Christian tradition. I personally adhere to ideals and strict precepts regarding the morals, rights, and duties of men and women, including all things that pertain to the human faculties of reproduction. My faith has indeed given me a strong moral code to which I feel compelled to “live up to.” My faith has also given me great examples of generosity, of heroism, and of love and tenacity in the examples of family choices, the many dramatic considerations in reproductive decisions.
I am well aware that the ethical criteria to which I hold myself are far more strict than any set of laws or constitutional obligations that could be imposed by the state of Vermont. Yet this only strengthens my hopes to dialogue about important issues as I here explain my concerns, that Proposal 5 is contradictory in its implications for society, or at least dangerously unsatisfactory in its articulation.
I state this not because Proposal 5 proposes to exclude government imposition of most all moral codes pertaining to choices proximate or remote to the accomplishment of “reproduction,” but because it is negligent in its failure to affirm, even to recognize, positive responsibilities which ought to be part of all reproductive choices. The view of autonomy that Proposal 5 pushes forward is dangerously imbalanced, in favor of personal wishes without care for societal responsibilities. Those responsibilities must certainly apply in some ways to reproductive choices. Ideally some specific responsibilities would be articulated in Proposal 5, if not in the Article of Amendment. Merely to affirm that some responsibilities exist would be a start. The abandonment of all responsibilities (say, for example, towards today’s children let alone tomorrow’s) is synonymous with the very destruction of society.
Our state constitution is filled with imperatives, duties, and various objectives which “ought” to be done. It is also true that a key purpose of the constitution is to enumerate those things that the government “ought not” do in the face of citizen’s rights. Yet I propose to the people of Vermont that the government most certainly “ought not” inflate the sense of individualism and autonomy to such a degree that the sense of familial and communal responsibility is neglected and rendered to a legal trash bin. Highlighting individual autonomy, as attached exclusively to sexual matters by the category of “reproductive,” seems to do just this.
Our constitution insists upon the positive responsibility to defend the life and the rights of citizens “born equally free and independent [with] certain natural, inherent, and unalienable rights.” The unanswered question must be brought up, of why the same rights, enumerated after birth, seem to be denied categorically to all human beings prior to the minute of their birth. I propose that the question reveals a dilemma almost especially from the pro-choice standpoint. Reproductive autonomy is said to include, but not be limited to, the defense of the reproductive rights for persons contemplating either the continuation of, or the termination of, a pregnancy. If this reproductive autonomy is nothing more than this, then Proposal 5 is indeed mere legal jargon to assert abortion rights in the constitution. I might make a pragmatic concession that the people of Vermont could decide on the issue, the legal jargon being explained. But if this autonomy extends beyond the choices impacting on pregnancy, then it must impact upon the choices to parent children, and it must logically be limited by responsibility. Parenting is nearly the opposite of autonomy precisely in the taking up of praiseworthy responsibilities for other persons: by birth, by adoption, even by foster parenting. I think it is plain to see the limits of glorifying the so-called “liberty and dignity to determine one’s own life course” when choices of sexuality and reproduction are brought forward devoid of any thought pertaining to responsibilities for family, for community, and for society.
I conclude with several questions elicited here. Are Vermonters prepared to draw the appropriate lines between autonomy and responsibility that are neglected in this proposal? Will Vermonters be afforded just and fair opportunities to negotiate the balance of these responsibilities in the public sphere, and determine the proper measure with which to represent them in law? Or will our representatives in Montpelier impose, at some indeterminate, later date the responsibilities that they decide should be applicable to all citizens on the issues of reproduction, sexuality, and parenting choices?
Rev. Timothy Naples