Officials reassure Mass. residents on abortion rights, gird for battle

Democrats rally for what they see as looming battle with GOP

A SMALL GROUP of top Massachusetts elected officials hastily gathered in front of the State House on Tuesday morning to reassure residents that abortion rights will remain intact in the state no matter what the Supreme Court does with Roe v Wade and to lay out the welcome mat for women from other states who may be in danger of losing their access to the procedure.

With a draft opinion of the US Supreme Court surfacing indicating that Roe v Wade is about to be overturned, the Democratic officials also sought to rally voters for what they see as an emerging political war with the Republican Party over a host of rights.

US Rep. Katherine Clark said the Republican Party will not be content simply with a Supreme Court decision overturning Roe. “They will not be satisfied with rolling back the clock on women,” she said. “They will come for LGBTQ communities, communities of color, for immigrant communities. They will come because they have told us they will. This is not hyperbole. This is not paranoia.”

Senate President Karen Spilka called the draft Supreme Court decision “one of the saddest days” in US history and House Speaker Ron Mariano said it’s time to fight back.

“I think I’ve had it,” Mariano said. “I think we should be very concerned when the one institution in our democracy that has been above political politics for the 250 years that this country existed is now another political entity.”

The Speaker said Democrats need to bolster their ranks in the House and Senate in Washington. “We need to have a working margin. That’s what we should be doing. That’s where the fight is,” he said. “They’re coming folks. They’re coming after gay marriage, after all the rights we fought so hard to install in our laws. Pretty soon the only laws that will matter will be for old White guys like me. Everything else will be gone. If you don’t think that’s the goal, I think you better start paying attention.”

Boston Mayor Michelle Wu said she is suiting up for battle. “Abortion care is health care,” she said. Others who attended the rally included US Attorney Rachael Rollins, several state senators, and activists from the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts, Reproductive Equity Now, and the Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts.

The 1973 Roe decision held that that Constitution protects a pregnant woman’s right to obtain an abortion without excessive government restriction. If the decision is overturned, as the draft opinion suggests, abortion would not become illegal but the oversight of abortion would shift to the states. More than 20 states have laws in place that could restrict or ban abortion if Roe is overturned.

The impact in Massachusetts would be minimal because a law called the ROE Act passed in late 2020. The Roe Act not only codified in state law access to abortion, it eliminated two limitations on that access. One provision removed a requirement that a minor get parental consent or a judge’s approval before obtaining an abortion. The other would allow abortions after 24 weeks in the case of a fatal birth defect; previously, abortions were allowed after 24 weeks only to protect the health or life of the mother.

Gov. Charlie Baker raised concerns about those two provisions and attempted to veto them, but the Legislature overrode his veto.

On Tuesday morning, Baker made clear that he strongly supports the law’s main pillars ensuring abortion access. “If SCOTUS overturns Roe, it would be a massive setback for women in states without responsible laws protecting abortion access and reproductive health services,” Baker tweeted, employing the acronym for the Supreme Court of the United States. “I am proud to support every woman’s right to choose and I am proud that MA has and will always protect every woman’s right to choose what is best for them.”

State leaders said the ROE Act puts Massachusetts in a good position to protect abortion rights if Roe v Wade is overturned by the Supreme Court. “We’re ahead of every other state,” Spilka said.

Both Mariano and Spilka indicated they are ready to do more. Spilka said “possibly other states might need assistance.” Mariano said the recently passed House budget included $500,000 in state funding for abortions. The Senate budget proposal is due out next week, but Spilka declined to say what it might include dealing with the abortion issue.

Meet the Author

Bruce Mohl

Editor, CommonWealth

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

Jennifer Childs-Roshak, the president and CEO of Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts, said her organization is already seeing women from other states coming here to obtain abortion services. She said she expects that trend to accelerate if Roe is overturned, and women coming from afar may need financial assistance to obtain abortions and to make the trip.

“We’re ready. We’re willing,” she said.