Since the late 1960s the slogan "My body, my choice" has been a feminist slogan used by women and men around the world in the global struggle for reproductive rights. In the last ten years alone, we have seen a resurgence of this catchphrase, or variations of it, on social media, in fashion, in the news, and utilized by various organizations.
Vermont, the Freedom and Unity state, is attempting their own legal version of codifying this mantra by amending their state constitution. Already, Vermont has a statutory right to abortion, but this change in their constitution would extend individual reproductive rights even further, and into even more dangerous territory.
Vermont Proposal 5, Right to Personal Reproductive Autonomy, sponsored by Senators Tim Ashe, Becca Balint, Ginny Lyons and Richard Sears, would simply add Amendment Article 22 to Chapter I of the Vermont Constitution. The proposed text is short and simple, but carries a lot of weight:
"That an individual's right to personal reproductive autonomy is central to the liberty and dignity to determine one's own life course and shall not be denied or infringed unless justified by a compelling State interest achieved by the least restrictive means."
An amendment that protects my liberty and dignity? This sounds like something that would benefit all. Well, we see this proposal for what it really is: both harmful and exploitative to women, especially those women that are economically vulnerable, and a pathway to abuses on the tiniest member of the human family, the human embryo.
Wesley Smith cautions that this proposition, called Proposal 5, "would open the door to reproductive anarchy." He goes on to state, "a near absolute right to 'reproductive autonomy' would mean that any method and means of creating and gestating children would be enshrined in the Vermont Constitution." Readers, this proposed addition to the Vermont Constitution is a far cry from actually promoting liberty and dignity. Instead, it erodes it and it privileges the rights of the wealthy over those of the poor.
If reproductive autonomy is enshrined in the VT state constitution, that would give women the right to sell their eggs or rent their wombs, to whomever they want, and as many times as they want. That would give wealthy people the right to buy women's eggs and rent women's wombs. We already hear stories of young women selling their eggs to strangers so that they can pay rent or afford a college education. We already know that our military wives are targeted for surrogacy as they are in the low-income brackets in the US.
This "reproductive autonomy" further entices women to yield their bodies to dangerous fertility drugs in order to sell their eggs—either for research or in the name of family building. This does not enable freedom, but commodifies women. No doubt, fertility industries will prosper as they eat off the backs of women selling their eggs or renting their bodies in commercial surrogacy arrangements. Practices that do not foster empowerment, but reduce humans to commodity and product. Finally, women have a special ability, as we alone can house and birth our children. This will change as transgender males harvest the wombs from female cadavers or donors so that they can bear children and exercise their right to reproductive autonomy.
We also know this change in the Vermont constitution will be damaging and dangerous to children. Reproductive autonomy will not only give credence to the false idea that one has a "right to a child" but that they have a right to a particular kind of child: A child that doesn't have Down Syndrome. A child that is the preferred sex of the couple exercising their reproductive autonomy. A child that has no right to know who their biological egg "donor" mother is or who the woman was who carried them in their womb and gave birth to them.
With the passage of Prop 5, more children will be created through third party reproduction; two-womb babies and three parent embryos will turn into children who were purchased and put together with contracts and manufactured in the laboratory. Is that the future we want?
This proposition sets up a system that allows for the production of human embryos to be ordered and special made by design. The myriad of ethical issues already present, as well as those that are on the horizon, are not even being considered as the legislators move to make this legal change. For example, this law allows for the reduction of human life to utility through embryo cloning, research and experimentation, or by organ harvesting, also known as fetal farming. Prop 5 opens the door to ethical concerns we can't even imagine yet as new technologies and techniques develop for creating embryos in the lab.
Not only are created embryos subject to testing and farming, but this change inadvertently adds to the leftover embryo crisis and leads to the unintentional manufacturing of orphans. Over one million, and counting, embryos are sentenced to a life on ice leaving logistical snags, ethical problems and heartache in its wake.
Reproductive autonomy and slogans like, "My body, my choice" express empowerment, but is this empowerment equal? This proposition can't predict the far-reaching consequences of completely disregulating the creation and use of sperm, eggs and embryos or the commodification of women and their reproductive body.
If Vermont voters were made aware of all the ethical pitfalls, they would vote no on Prop 5. We must protect the liberty and intrinsic human dignity of all women and children.
Jennifer Lahl is the founder and president of the Center for Bioethics and Culture and producer of the documentary films, "Eggsploitation," "Anonymous Father's Day," "Breeders: A Subclass of Women?" "Maggie's Story," and "#BigFertility," which was an official selection in the Silicon Valley International Film Festival. Her new film, "Trans Mission: What's the Rush to Reassign Gender?" was released June 17, 2021.
Kallie Fell started her professional career as a scientist in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Vanderbilt University utilizing a M.S. degree in Reproductive Physiology from Purdue University. While assisting in the investigation of endometriosis and pre-term birth, she decided that she wanted to interact more with women in a clinical role and went back to school to become a registered nurse. After living in Indiana, Tennessee, and Ohio, Kallie finally found her way to the Bay Area to work at the Center for Bioethics and Culture. She is passionate about women's health. Kallie resides with her husband in the Bay Area and still works as a labor and delivery nurse while writing and working for the CBC.