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Unequal under the law

Posted April 27, 2007

Riddle us this: When is a woman not in charge of her own health? When five men in robes say so.

For the first time since Roe v. Wade was handed down in 1973 legalizing abortion, the U.S. Supreme Court has put the government firmly between a woman and her doctor.

The court upheld a federal law outlawing so-called “partial birth” abortions, even in the case where the life of the mother is in jeopardy. The lack of a health exception is what, seven years ago, the court invoked to strike down a similar abortion ban enacted in Nebraska, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor providing the swing vote that shot down the law. O’Connor later retired and was replaced on the court by Alito.

Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing the majority opinion in Gonzalez v. Carhart, said the law’s opponents “have not demonstrated that the act would be unconstitutional in a large fraction of relevant cases.” Also voting in the majority were Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Samuel Alito, Antonin Scalia, and Clarence Thomas.

Voting in the minority were Justices Paul Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, David Souter, and John Paul Stevens.

“Thus, legal challenges to undue restrictions on abortion procedures do not seek to vindicate some generalized notion of privacy; rather, they center on a woman’s autonomy to determine her life’s course, and thus to enjoy equal citizenship stature,” wrote Ginsburg in her rebuke of the majority opinion.

The decision opens the door for state legislators to pass laws that substantially interfere in the doctor-patient relationship and to severely limit access to abortion and reproductive health care, and is likely to have a chilling effect on doctors’ willingness to provide certain forms of care for fear of prosecution. This means a woman’s health and safety could largely depend on where she lives, not her actual health needs.

While we can agree to disagree on the issue of abortion, we should all agree that it is not our right to play the role of God through our government. Nor is it anything short of patronizing to think that a woman should not be in charge of her own reproductive rights. Not society, the government, or a religion should be.

Fueling up at the nuclear power station

Just when you think all sources of possible revenue have been tapped, along comes a secret reservoir of wealth that has been heretofore left intact.

This week, Pres. Pro Tem Sen. Peter Shumlin, D-Windham, announced he’s found a magical source of untapped moolah — the deep pockets of Entergy, the corporation that owns Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant — to fund the expansion of efficiency programs into home heating.

It’s hard to see the connection between dry cask storage of spent nuclear fuel and home heating. Last we checked, no one was heating their homes with nuclear fuel, though if you heat your home with electricity some of those electrons may have originated from Vernon.

Lawmakers need to refrain from grabbing cash for every pet project with a fee on electrons, dry casks, or fuel rods. Not because Entergy can’t afford it, because they can.

Vermont lawmakers must be able to make a clear decision next year about the fate of Vermont Yankee and whether it should be allowed to operate beyond 2012 when its current operating license expires. They will not be able to make such a decision if their pet projects are being fueled by money from Entergy’s coffers.

Already, Entergy pays millions of dollars into Vermont’s clean energy fund, the Radiological Emergency Response Plan fund, as well as local food banks, non-profits, and charities in Windham County.

And, the list goes on.

If Vermonters, and some lawmakers, are serious about breaking the nuclear habit, then they should put their money where their mouths are and return Entergy’s checks, or better yet not ask them to write the checks in the first place.

Treasurer Jeb Spaulding just announced he is willing to put millions of dollars back into Vermont through an economically-targeted investment program. Vermonters can save more than $400 million with a $150 million investment, according to the Department of Public Service. And, with such a great payoff, someone should be able to make a business plan work.

If Sen. Shumlin and other Democrats think this is such a grand idea, then that should be the place to look for money to fund this program, not Entergy or taxpayers.