DEAR JO, Near daily news about the strict limits on abortion access being passed in Alabama, Georgia, Ohio, and other states worries me that the Supreme Court might overturn Roe v. Wade and take away constitutional protections for abortion rights. While the Supreme Court question will take years to wend its way up there, I still think we need to be focusing on what we can do here and now in Massachusetts. What is the situation in the commonwealth? What can we be doing at the state level?
— Cate Woolner, Northfield
DEAR CATE: Eleven states have passed laws in 2019 which restrict access to abortion. I am horrified by these attacks on reproductive rights and health care access.
Every person should have access to a full range of medical options when it comes to making a decision about their pregnancy. These restrictive laws — as well as the seating of Brett Kavanaugh on the U.S. Supreme Court — are painful wake-up calls to all of us to work even harder to engage in fact-based public conversations about personal medical decisions, while supporting candidates who will protect women’s rights to safe, legal abortion.
In Massachusetts, the basic right to abortion has been protected by our state Supreme Judicial Court since 1981. This decision secures the right to abortion in Massachusetts even if Roe v. Wade is overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Yet even in the commonwealth, a number of Massachusetts laws still impose unnecessary and burdensome restrictions that can delay or deny access to care. The bottom line is the right to abortion means little to a person who cannot actually access the care they need.
And today, we also cannot ignore the possibility that if Roe is overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court, and if the president and Congress all oppose abortion rights, they could initiate national restrictions on abortion access that would affect us in the commonwealth.
Last session, the Massachusetts Legislature passed two important bills relating to women’s reproductive rights. The ACCESS bill requires that health insurance plans offered in Massachusetts cover nearly all forms of birth control, including emergency contraception, with no copayment.
The NASTY Women Act, also passed last session, repealed a 173-year-old law in Massachusetts that made it illegal to “procure a miscarriage.” Both of these are important steps in the right direction, but this session there is still more to be done.
That’s why I am a cosponsor of state legislation, S.1209, An Act to Remove Obstacles and Expand abortion access, known as the ROE Act.
The ROE Act strengthens the commonwealth’s commitment to safe, legal and accessible abortion. Among its provisions, it will:
- Eliminate an onerous judicial bypass process teenagers must navigate to access abortion. This process can force teens to delay care or travel out of state for their care.
- Expand access to abortion when necessary due to a fatal fetal diagnosis — in other words, when the fetus will not survive — allowing decisions to be made by the patient and her doctor.
- Eliminate old language that is no longer enforced, as well as medically inaccurate and inflammatory language still in our books, such as criminal penalties for doctors that provide abortion care. It will also repeal an unenforced 24-hour waiting period and codify the principles of reproductive freedom into state law.
If you want more information about the ROE Act, look at this information from Planned Parenthood of Massachusetts.
I’m heartened that upwards of 80 percent of Massachusetts voters support the right to safe, legal abortion. They recognize that abortion is health care and that legislators should not impose their own personal ideologies on personal medical decisions.
In terms of what we can all do, here are some ideas.
Engage in fact-based public conversations about reproductive rights, the restrictions rolling across the nation and the commonwealth’s opportunity to act as a line of defense against anti-choice legislation sweeping the country.
Write letters to the editor and talk with your neighbors. And here again, I emphasize fact-based as, very sadly, there has been an uptick in misinformation about the ROE Act, which I believe hurts everyone. Constituents in our district can count on me to listen and engage deeply.
Call or email your state senator and representative. Even if you know they support reproductive rights, government simply works better when constituents make it work by engaging deeply in holding all lawmakers accountable.
Take to the streets, hit the phones, knock on doors, hold signs on corners and flood social media around the upcoming 2020 election. Winning the White House and the Senate will be critical for every issue we care about — especially reproductive rights.
State Sen. Jo Comerford represents 160,000 people living in 24 cities and towns in the Hampshire, Franklin, Worcester district in the Massachusetts Legislature.
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