Gag rule impacts Massachusetts

New move to withhold funding from clinics providing abortion services could affect all states

In Massachusetts, we view abortion rights as settled law, though acknowledging that there are still pockets of deep opposition.

The debate over abortion rights rarely rises to an issue in federal or local races here because state law is so firm on a woman’s right to choose that a vocal opponent rarely has a chance at victory. Watching restrictions play out in other states such as Iowa or Mississippi has little impact on what happens here.

But a move set to be announced Friday by the Trump administration could have a deep impact here on the ability of women to access information and care in obtaining an abortion as well as receive health care beyond abortion services. President Trump plans to announce a directive that would withhold federal funding from clinics that provide abortion services, referrals, or even information. It is a direct shot at Planned Parenthood and a gift to conservatives who have been pushing for such action to restrict abortions even in states where there is no fervent opposition.

The move has the earmarks of the domestic “gag order” imposed by then-President Reagan that required a physical separation at clinics that offered abortions and referrals between those services and other family planning services. That policy was tossed out after President Clinton assumed office.

The new order would eliminate more than $260 million in federal Title X grants to Planned Parenthood and give a boost to conservatives who have been unable to overturn Roe v Wade through the courts. An attempt in Congress to defund Planned Parenthood was unsuccessful but the administration order needs no approval, though it will face court challenges.

The move comes as protests at abortion clinics are on the rise once again, with abortion opponents emboldened by an administration bent on implementing conservative ideals to appease the base. Massachusetts is not immune from those protests as a look on the Planned Parenthood site for the five clinics in the Bay State has a warning to patients that they may face protests outside the buildings. The move will also give some boost to right-wing candidates here such as Scott Lively and ensure that the order and the issue will become a part of this year’s statewide campaigns.

Even though abortion is not a hot-button issue here, Massachusetts politicians continue to stand at the front of the fight. Sen. Elizabeth Warren was the first of more than 200 lawmakers who signed a letter to Trump opposing the funding ban as word began to leak out.

Meet the Author

Jack Sullivan

Senior Investigative Reporter, CommonWealth

About Jack Sullivan

Jack Sullivan is a veteran of the Boston newspaper scene for nearly three decades. Prior to joining CommonWealth, he was editorial page editor of The Patriot Ledger in Quincy, a part of the GateHouse Media chain. Prior to that he was news editor at another GateHouse paper, The Enterprise of Brockton, and also was city edition editor at the Ledger. Jack was an investigative and enterprise reporter and executive city editor at the Boston Herald and a reporter at The Boston Globe.

He has reported stories such as the federal investigation into the Teamsters, the workings of the Yawkey Trust and sale of the Red Sox, organized crime, the church sex abuse scandal and the September 11 terrorist attacks. He has covered the State House, state and local politics, K-16 education, courts, crime, and general assignment.

Jack received the New England Press Association award for investigative reporting for a series on unused properties owned by the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston, and shared the association's award for business for his reporting on the sale of the Boston Red Sox. As the Ledger editorial page editor, he won second place in 2007 for editorial writing from the Inland Press Association, the nation's oldest national journalism association of nearly 900 newspapers as members.

At CommonWealth, Jack and editor Bruce Mohl won first place for In-Depth Reporting from the Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors for a look at special education funding in Massachusetts. The same organization also awarded first place to a unique collaboration between WFXT-TV (FOX25) and CommonWealth for a series of stories on the Boston Redevelopment Authority and city employees getting affordable housing units, written by Jack and Bruce.

A Boston native, Jack has lived in Massachusetts all his life. He was a major in English and history with a minor in political science at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. A father and grandfather, he lives in Plymouth with his wife, Susan.

About Jack Sullivan

Jack Sullivan is a veteran of the Boston newspaper scene for nearly three decades. Prior to joining CommonWealth, he was editorial page editor of The Patriot Ledger in Quincy, a part of the GateHouse Media chain. Prior to that he was news editor at another GateHouse paper, The Enterprise of Brockton, and also was city edition editor at the Ledger. Jack was an investigative and enterprise reporter and executive city editor at the Boston Herald and a reporter at The Boston Globe.

He has reported stories such as the federal investigation into the Teamsters, the workings of the Yawkey Trust and sale of the Red Sox, organized crime, the church sex abuse scandal and the September 11 terrorist attacks. He has covered the State House, state and local politics, K-16 education, courts, crime, and general assignment.

Jack received the New England Press Association award for investigative reporting for a series on unused properties owned by the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston, and shared the association's award for business for his reporting on the sale of the Boston Red Sox. As the Ledger editorial page editor, he won second place in 2007 for editorial writing from the Inland Press Association, the nation's oldest national journalism association of nearly 900 newspapers as members.

At CommonWealth, Jack and editor Bruce Mohl won first place for In-Depth Reporting from the Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors for a look at special education funding in Massachusetts. The same organization also awarded first place to a unique collaboration between WFXT-TV (FOX25) and CommonWealth for a series of stories on the Boston Redevelopment Authority and city employees getting affordable housing units, written by Jack and Bruce.

A Boston native, Jack has lived in Massachusetts all his life. He was a major in English and history with a minor in political science at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. A father and grandfather, he lives in Plymouth with his wife, Susan.

The order doesn’t necessarily mean a clinic would lose funding, only if they don’t “disentangle” themselves from abortion services. Officials at Planned Parenthood say that is a misleading posture because information on abortion, including a woman’s health, is important to a full spectrum of sexual health services.

More than 45 years after the Supreme Court said women had a constitutional right to make their own choice in pregnancies, the debate is far from settled.