More work needed on Mass. reproductive laws

Those under 18 shouldn’t need permission for an abortion

IN EARLY 2018, Donald Trump addressed an anti-choice rally, proclaiming “Americans are more and more pro-life, you see that all the time.” Not only was President Trump wrong about the nation as whole, he was dead wrong about Massachusetts. We proved it on November 6.

Just ask first-time candidates Becca Rausch of Needham, David LeBoeuf of Worcester, Tram Nguyen of Andover, Lindsey Sabadosa of Northampton, Christina Minicucci of North Andover, and Mindy Domb of Amherst. All of these candidates ran for office in the Commonwealth and won on a platform that embraced reproductive freedom. They do not exist in a vacuum. Many, many other first-time candidates were unafraid to speak openly and candidly about the importance of reproductive freedom.

Conventional wisdom has long held that abortion may be too taboo to discuss, let alone inspire voters.  Yet, as with all conventional wisdom, it’s only conventional until it’s not. NARAL Pro-Choice Massachusetts, supported by the National Institute for Reproductive Health Action Fund, put this conventional wisdom to the test, and found that that the vast majority of Masschusetts voters, including Catholic voters, support protecting abortion and believe that the state should lead the country in ensuring access to reproductive healthcare services.

In a statewide survey of 2,000 registered Massachusetts voters, the MassINC Polling Group found that 82 percent of voters, including those who identify as Catholic, agree that “we need to pass laws that respect, support, and empower women – ensuring that everyone has access to respectful, quality, and affordable reproductive healthcare, including abortion.” To that end, 78 percent of all voters (and 72 percent of Catholics) support a state law to guarantee a legal right to abortion.

The election results reflect voter’s preference for pro-choice policies. Voters know that the threat to reproductive freedom from the Trump administration is real and they want elected officials in Massachusetts who will help pass proactive legislation to safeguard our basic rights.

From our collective experience working in the Commonwealth, we know Massachusetts has long been a leader in protecting women and vulnerable populations. Just last year, the Legislature passed five reproductive freedom bills; yet, we haven’t done enough. And voters know it.

Bay Staters have access to some of the best healthcare in the world. But they might be surprised to learn that Massachusetts still has a long way to go before we can truly lead the nation in protecting access to abortion. There is no explicit protection for women’s reproductive decisions in our state law. And, while Massachusetts took an important step this summer to repeal the antiquated pre-Roe law that criminalized abortion and punished healthcare providers, a number of other laws remain in place—among the more than 1,000 laws against abortion passed in state legislatures across the country since Roe—to undermine access. These barriers to care disproportionately hurt women of color, immigrant women, young women, and women from other marginalized communities—and these harms would be exacerbated should Roe be overturned or further undermined.

Current state laws create unnecessary hurdles to access abortion care; they require young women under the age of 18 to obtain parental consent or appear before a judge to gain permission to have an abortion. Additionally, women who face life-threatening complications later in pregnancy can be forced to travel great distances and spend tens of thousands of dollars to receive abortion care, in spite of the fact that we have world-class healthcare right here in Massachusetts. Such laws are unfair and unjust, robbing women of the vital healthcare they deserve.

We like to think of Massachusetts as a progressive beacon, but in this new normal – where the backstop protections of Roe may disappear – state legislators cannot afford to ignore the critical importance of taking a strong affirmative stand for reproductive freedom.

In the wake of the Kavanaugh confirmation, state legislators must replace medically unjustified statutes with meaningful legislation that preserves a woman’s right to access abortion. Bay Staters will not tolerate these restrictive laws on the books and our research makes that clear – 81 percent of all registered voters agree that “Massachusetts should be a national leader in ensuring a woman’s right to access reproductive health services.” The election results demonstrate that voters are ready for action from Beacon Hill.

Meet the Author

Harriette Chandler

Senator from Worcester/President emerita, Massachusetts Senate
Meet the Author

Rebecca Hart Holder

Executive director, NARAL Pro-Choice Massachusetts
Decisions in Massachusetts reverberate loudly on the national stage. We led the nation in recognizing same sex marriage in 2004. We were the policy lab for universal healthcare coverage in 2006. Today, we have an opportunity to lead the nation in reproductive freedom, but not if we don’t fight for it.

Harriette Chandler is the Senate president emerita from Worcester and Rebecca Hart Holder is the executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Massachusetts.