A rift may be developing in our state’s tiny anti-abortion movement, which already is vastly outnumbered and vastly outresourced in its campaign against the reproductive rights amendment known as Article 22. The last thing they need is an internal dispute.
On Saturday the Vermont Daily Chronicle posted a written exchange between far-right activist Jim Sexton and Mary Beerworth, longtime leader of the Vermont Right to Life Committee. In his letter, Sexton upbraided Beerworth for endorsing Christina Nolan for U.S. Senate over the thoroughly anti-abortion Gerald Malloy, and for making a donation to the Nolan campaign. He called on Beerworth to either “come out Publicly and disassociate from Ms. Nolan and her campaign, or to resign from VT Right to Life.”
Beerworth replied that she made the endorsement because Nolan is (1) staunchly opposed to Article 22 and (2) the only Republican with a chance of beating “100% pro-abortion and 100% pro-Article 22, Peter Welch (D)” in November.
It’s a rare moment of pragmatism from an activist known for her doggedness in fronting lost causes. And it comes at a time when pragmatism is a dirty word for many on the right.
Beerworth noted that her endorsement was purely personal and did not reflect the views of Vermont Right to Life, which decided to remain neutral in the August primary “for a number of reasons.” I think it’s fair to infer that one big reason was a disagreement in VRLC leadership over who to endorse.
Beerworth closed with a strong clapback:
Jim Sexton may believe that he somehow has the right to tell me what to do in my personal life and demand that I resign, but he is sadly mistaken. I was hired by the Vermont Right to Life Board of Directors 26 years ago and will continue to give my best effort to work under their direction. But only the VRLC Board can request my resignation.
Here’s the number-one anti-abortion activist in Vermont asserting that no one “has the right to tell me what to do in my personal life.” Yup. That’s what she said.
Beerworth may be right to dismiss Sexton’s complaint. He ran as a write-in candidate for governor in 2020 and scored a massive 84 votes, so there’s no evidence that he represents any constituency whatsoever. But we’re talking about the 2022 conservative movement, where a controversy can arise from nowhere and go Defcon One in a hot minute.
Beerworth is cutting the bologna pretty thin by positioning her endorsement as purely personal. She’s so strongly identified with VRLC that anything she does will inevitably reflect on the organization. She is within her rights, of course, to speak as a citizen in whatever way she wishes. But she’s not doing anything to appease Sexton (if he is capable of being appeased), and runs the risk that this could spread rapidly in far-right circles.
The worst case is an open battle within the far right that would launch VRLC into an all-out purity contest at the worst possible moment, when they’re in a long-odds battle to keep abortion rights out of the state constitution.
Couldn’t happen to a better bunch, I say.