Category Archives: reproductive rights

W2W4

Planning on a very short or nice long evening, sitting in front of my desktop hitting REFRESH on the Vermont vote count. Here are the things I’ll be watching for, in roughly descending order:

The #1 thing is whether the Democrats and Progressives can add to their supermajorities. They’ve already got a comfortable margin in the Senate, but they barely clear the bar in the House and could use a few more seats. More on that below; for now let’s go to the top of the ballot.

Scott/Siegel. Everybody expects Gov. Phil Scott will win a fourth term. Democrat Brenda Siegel has run a strong campaign, but it’s been underfunded and she’s had to climb a very tall mountain. The polls say Scott will win a majority of the Democratic voters which, need I repeat, means that those voters are not serious about advancing their party’s agenda.

I still give Siegel a puncher’s chance. If she does pull up short, I’ll be very interested in the margin of victory for Scott. How close can Siegel make it? How much of a dent has she put in Scott’s Teflon? Has she created a template for a future candidate with deeper pockets?

Otherwise, the statewide races are not going to be close. It’s hard to see anything but a Democratic sweep of U.S. Senate, Congress, lieutenant governor, attorney general, auditor, secretary of state and treasurer. Bragging rights go to the Democratic candidate with the biggest win. I suspect that will be Mike Pieciak.

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Hey, Lenore Broughton Has Found Another Rathole to Throw Her Money Into

Well, doesn’t that look impressive. A new “Institute” focused on the idea of Human Flourishing, a well-established principle in the humanities — and also in evangelical Christianity. Classically restrained logo and font. You might assume this is a broad-based serious enterprise… until you explore its website further.

Upon which you discover that (a) there’s not a heck of a lot of substance, just a few minimal pages with big pictures and not much text, and (b) the Institute’s two top officers are former VTGOP chair Deb Billado and Vermont’s Favorite Archconservative Moneybags, Lenore Broughton.

I’ll give you one guess who’s writing the checks for this outfit.

The Vermont Institute for Human Flourishing joins the likes of True North Reports and the late unlamented Vermonters First on the roster of no-hope organizations Broughton has funded in lieu of doing anything that might actually have an impact.

Well, to be fair, it’s too early to make that call on VIHF. It hasn’t had time to fail. Yet.

A brief explanation of “human flourishing.” In the social sciences slash humanities, it’s an interdisciplinary study of how best to help people reach their full potential. (Harvard has a Human Flourishing Program.) In evangelical Christian circles, it means channelling sexuality into traditional male/female marriage and battling deviant practices like homosexuality, extramarital sex, and pornography.

I think we know which camp the Vermont Institute is a member of.

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Before We Discuss the Debate, We Must Have a Word About the Moderator

The trying-too-hard-to-smile fellow pictured above is Lee Kittell, program director at WDEV Radio. Quiet, very hardworking, seemingly pleasant enough fellow.

But my God, he put in a disgraceful performance as moderator of the gubernatorial debate held at the Tunbridge World’s Fair. He did a good job managing the flow, but his questions. They were long-winded, bombastic, and straight outta the QAnon/Trumpiverse.

The two candidates handled the situation as you might expect. Gov. Phil Scott slid past the questions and stuck to his canned talking points. Democrat Brenda Siegel responded strongly, even directly upbraiding Kittell on at least one occasion.

Let’s start with the nadir of this piece of performance art. The issue, you will be shocked to learn, was abortion. Kittell brought up Article 22 and asked if the candidates “approve the right to have an abortion right up to the delivery room?” Which is straight out of the anti-abortion playbook.

His follow-up was even worse. He referred to our current workforce issues and asked if “the 60 million abortions performed in the last 50 years” is a cause of worker shortages.

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Already, The Mask Slips

Vermont’s tiny but determined anti-abortion cohort had it all figured out. Instead of the usual frontal attack about baby-killing and “Before I formed thee, I knew thee” and implicit slut-shaming, they were going to make a disguised, indirect attack on Article 22. It was all lies, but at least it was subtle.

To carry this through November 8, however, would require a level of self-restraint not usually present among the committed pro-lifers. And sure enough, they couldn’t even make it to Labor Day before letting the mask slip.

The above is a mailer distributed by “Vermonters for Good Government,” the front organization set up by Right to Life Vermont and their deep-pocketed friends Lenore Broughton, Carol Breuer and the Roman Catholic Diocese of Burlington, which apparently emerged from the financial crisis of the child sexual abuse scandal with enough scratch to throw $50,000 into the anti-Article 22 dumpster.

The mailer reverts to classic punch-in-the-face anti-abortion style: LATE-TERM ABORTION in 120-point type, fetal images designed to show how innocent and defenseless they are, references to fetuses as “babies,” and a layout that would make a professional designer hang their head in shame.

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Vermont’s Anti-Abortion Movement Just Acknowledged It Can’t Win

The Vermont Right to Life Committee, which has led the losing battle against abortion in our state for decades, is strangely absent from the campaign over Article 22.

Or so it would seem.

In a tacit acknowledgment that their brand is irredeemably tainted, anti-abortion activists have gone under cover. They’ve created a new group with the anodyne monicker of Vermonters for Good Government Action to lead the fight against Article 22. They’ve adopted rhetoric that never expresses blanket opposition to abortion. No fetus pictures, nothing whatsoever about life beginning at conception, no screaming about The Abortion Industry.

Because hey, who could possibly oppose Good Government Action?

But look at who’s funding this thing: ultraconservative donor Lenore Broughton has dropped a cool $100,000, ardent prolife donor Carol Breuer gave $50,000, and the Roman Catholic Diocese of Burlington, which long ago forfeited any claim to moral superiority, kicked in another 50 G’s. The rest of the human race donated a total of $14,039.

Also, there on the “Treasurer” line of VGGA’s campaign finance filing is the name “Sharon Toborg,” who is merely the second most prominent (behind Mary Beerworth) anti-abortion activist in Vermont and a stalwart leader of Vermont Right to Life.

The one to watch is Broughton, who once spent more than a million bucks in a futile bid to swing the 2012 election for the Republicans. She could top that figure easily. I think we should expect that she will.

The problem with Broughton’s backing is, well, it’s kind of a curse.

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Here’s the Last Thing Vermont’s Anti-Abortion Movement Needs

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.

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How Not to Position Yourself as a Progressive Firebrand

Well, some angry pro-choicers did the unthinkable: They took out their anger at the Roe v. Wade decision on the exterior of the Vermont Statehouse. They broke some windows and spray-painted “IF ABORTIONS AREN’T SAFE YOURE NOT EITHER” on the concrete outside the front entrance. One of the broken windows was in the office of Lt. Gov Molly Gray, who issued the following statement:

“I am alarmed by these attacks on our State House — my workplace — and condemn them in the strongest possible terms. Vermonters are feeling deep anger and frustration in the wake of yesterday’s Supreme Court ruling. I share this frustration. However, threats of violence and destruction of property are absolutely unacceptable and never the solution.”

And her campaign wonders why she’s considered the moderate, establishment candidate in the race. Her statement betrays an institutionalist point of view that prioritizes the sanctity of a building over the rights of women.

I’m sorry, but there does come a time when “threats of violence and destruction of property” are, if not exactly appropriate, perfectly understandable. One of our highest institutions just forcibly turned the calendar back by a half-century in a way that made “A Handmaid’s Tale” seem like a prophecy. It’s not surprising, then, if some people strike out against the nearest symbol of institutional America. In this case, the Statehouse.

Just spitballin’, but if Gray had asked me (and why would she?), I would have suggested a statement like this:

I share the widespread anger over the outrageous Supreme Court decision. This betrayal leaves women wondering if anyone speaks for them in the corridors of power — including my own party, which complacently believed that the rights granted in Roe v. Wade were secure. The damage to the Statehouse is unfortunate, but it pales in comparison to the damage done to American women by the Supreme Court.

I intend to channel my anger into productive action. We must restore reproductive rights and be diligent about protecting them. What we have done in the past simply isn’t enough.

Yeah, something like that.

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Just Shut Up, Phil (And Other Observations)

“Deeply disappointed,” my ass.

As long as he continues to voluntarily wear the Republican badge, Gov. Phil Scott is in no position to bemoan the disastrous Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade. Besides, he has no power whatsoever to make anything happen about this. In fact, I assume that if he had his way, we’d elect Christina Nolan to the U.S. Senate, which would be one more nail in the coffin of reproductive rights.

Indeed, if those pesky rumors about a Phil Scott run for Congress had come true (and he’d won, which could have happened because Nice Guy), he’d be helping his party retain or expand Congressional majorities, which would mean even more anti-choice judges.

“I signed a law”… that the Democratic Legislature pushed through with no help from your fellow Republicans. “I will be voting for that amendment,” but the vast majority of your fellow Republicans won’t be. You can roll your disappointment up real tight and stick it where the sun don’t shine.

Phil Scott likes to pretend that his party has gone off the rails fairly recently. Say, with the nomination of Donald Trump. Problem is, his party has been working to overturn Roe v. Wade since the 1991 confirmation of Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court. He was nominated by George H.W. Bush. Justices Alito and Roberts were nominated by George W. Bush. The other three radical judicial activists were installed by Trump and Mitch McConnell.

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Christina Nolan, Fake Abortion Rights Advocate

As befits a politician aspiring to the image of moderate Republicanism, U.S. Senate candidate Christina Nolan has given a carefully circumscribed statement of support for abortion rights.

And it’s as worthless as a bank note from the Duchy of Grand Fenwick.

I’m not accusing her of lying. Although a look at her background might suggest otherwise. She was raised in a devout Catholic family; she attended Rice Memorial High School; her grandparents were publicly anti-abortion; and one of her aunts is Mary Beerworth, the longtime head and public face of Vermont Right to Life. None of those facts can be found in any of her campaign literature, because of course they can’t.

But hey, for all I know she might be the family outcast, what with her “alternative lifestyle” and all.

Whether she’s welcome at holiday dinners or not, she opposes Proposition 5, the amendment that would enshrine reproductive freedom in Vermont’s Constitution, using language and reasoning borrowed from the anti-abortion crowd. They realize that direct opposition is a nonstarter in Vermont, so instead they raise bogus concerns about Prop 5 being overly broad, subject to misinterpretation, and potentially allowing abortion right up to the moment of birth. Nolan reportedly views Prop 5 as “extreme” but shies away from specifics. When asked where she would draw the line, all she can offer is “Vermonters need to have this conversation.”

That’s one level of uselessness. The other is the potential consequences of her entirely hypothetical election to the U.S. Senate.

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Vermont Right to Life Practices the Art of Not Being Seen

The folks at Vermont Right to Life know they’re up against it. Vermont voters will have their say in November on Proposition 5, a constitutional amendment protecting reproductive rights, and they will almost certainly pass it by a wide margin. Right to Life knows this. So they are setting out to campaign in stealth mode. Like the many conservative school board candidates I’ve written about, VRTL has abandoned its real agenda in favor of a whitewashed, seemingly inoffensive suite of arguments.

They’ve even launched a new organization, Vermonters for Good Government. Now, doesn’t that sound like something we can all get behind?

But a brief perusal of VfGG’s website shows that their vision of “good government” consists of one thing: Defeating Proposition 5. But they aren’t doing it by shouting about how fetuses are human beings, no sir. They simply want to expose “the implications of swift changes to the Vermont Constitution.”

Swift, ha. The amendment process takes a full two four* years. Ain’t nothing “swift” about Prop 5.

*The amendment must be approved in two successive bienniums, not two successive years.

But wait, there’s more! These people are the real feminists, don’t ya know? VfGG warns of “the unseen, harmful impact of Prop 5 on the health and well-being of young girls, women, our communities, our healthcare system…” And they close by saying they are nothing more than guardians of the Vermont Constitution.

How do I know VfGG and VRTL are one and the same? First, according to the Secretary of State’s nonprofit registry, the principals of VfGG include two prominent figures in the right to life movement, Sharon Toborg and Norman Smith. And second, the VRTL Twitter account is promoting an event sponsored by VfGG.

That event, by the way, is a campaign strategy session led by a notorious figure in far-right politics.

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