WATERFORD — Supporters of a Northeast Kingdom pregnancy care center gathered Friday at Union Baptist Church and heard about an effort in the state to make abortion a constitutional right.

Vermont Right to Life Executive Director Mary Beerworth told the assembly that places like Futures Pregnancy Care Center in Lyndonville are essential partners in the state in the opposition of Proposal 5, which would add language to the Vermont Constitution that would prevent restrictions on abortion.

The proposed amendment, referred to as “personal reproductive liberty,” is expected to go before voters in November 2022.

Beerworth shared text from the proposal that she said was crafted with guidance from Planned Parenthood. The proposal doesn’t include the word “abortion” and that was by design, according to Beerworth.

In part, the proposal states, “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.”

“It’s gobbledygook folks and it’s on purpose,” Beerworth said. “It’s deliberate because ‘personal reproductive autonomy’ is a phrase that can mean anything your imagination can come up with. But one thing for sure that it does is it strips an unborn child of any possibility of being protected by law in Vermont. It’s stripping those rights away permanently.”

Beerworth’s presence at the Futures Pregnancy Care banquet on Friday is about a year later than originally planned. Futures Executive Director Carmen Menard had asked her to speak in 2020, the first year the center opened its doors at 70 Church St. in Lyndonville, but the COVID pandemic forced the event’s cancellation.

This year, the fundraising event came together, but as the virus remains, there were precautions. Masks were available and the banquet meal was a pre-prepared box lunch.

Joel Battaglia, pastor at Lyndon Bible Church, and president of the Futures board of directors, spoke about the needs of the center and the benefits it offers to the local area. He referenced one young couple who recently found their way to the center.

“Our staff was able to give them compassionate hope and life-affirming options and even opened the door to ministering to them spiritually, and that is exactly why we exist and what we’re excited about,” he said.

In the fundraising appeal, Battaglia said $5,000 is needed for ultrasound training for the center’s registered nurse, and another $1,200 is needed annually to maintain partnership with a curriculum company that provides 200 courses that young people seeking services at Futures can access that offer life skills education.

Another need, said Menard, is more volunteers to help at the center.

In recounting the timeline of the center, Battaglia said the timing of its opening was unfortunate. The grand opening event took place on March 14, 2020 and was promptly followed by the pandemic lockdown. The location, however, is perfect at 70 Church St., Battaglia said. The property was once a funeral parlor.

“We like to say we changed it from a place of death to a place of life,” he said.

Several churches of varying denominations were represented among the attendees who gathered to support Futures Pregnancy Care on Friday. On its website, the center is defined as “a pregnancy support center offering compassionate care, life affirming options, information, and education for women and men facing unexpected pregnancies.”

Among those in attendance was a woman who faced her own unexpected pregnancy.

“I had a kid when I was 19,” said Starla Martin of Lisbon, N.H. “I got pregnant and it was really unplanned. It was really scary. My daughter’s father threatened me and tried to bribe me with money to get an abortion, but I knew that I was carrying life from the moment I found out I was pregnant.”

Martin said it was important for her to attend the event. She also connected with Beerworth and offered to share her story to promote the message of Right to Life.

“I am a huge advocate for life,” Martin said. “I think that motherhood is not the downfall of a woman. I think it empowers women to be a mom.”

Beerworth said supporters of pregnancy care centers need to help educate fellow Vermonters about the constitutional amendment and the dangers of passing it, including the likelihood that medical professionals will no longer be allowed to hold a conscientious objection to taking part in abortions.

“Most Vermonters don’t agree with Planned Parenthood,” said Beerworth. “They might call themselves pro choice, but they don’t see themselves as a Planned Parenthood pro choicer.”

Most Vermonters, she said, “want protection for minors; they want to recognize single personhood at 24 weeks. I really believe they are going to be offended that a pro life medical health care worker would be forced into providing abortions.”

“I think this is an opportunity for us to educate Vermonters like we’ve never had before,” she said.

Battaglia agreed.

“It’s our opportunity to be a light for the Lord and life in the midst of a darkening culture of death that we operate in and that just makes our light shine brighter,” he said.

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