Senate, Somerville eye protections for abortion, gender-affirming care

Would prevent compliance with other states’ investigations

THE STATE SENATE on Wednesday adopted an amendment to the state budget protecting anyone who receives or provides gender-affirming care or abortion care against other states’ attempts to prosecute them.

“Whether you like the law or not, the notion that somebody from some other state can set their values on our state is very concerning,” said Sen. Cindy Friedman, an Arlington Democrat who co-chairs the Health Care Financing Committee and sponsored the amendment.

On Thursday, the Somerville City Council will begin to consider its own ordinance protecting the rights of transgender people to seek gender-affirming care and of women to seek an abortion in Massachusetts, even if they live in a state where that is illegal. The Somerville ordinance is largely symbolic, since it’s not clear if any Somerville medical clinicians provide this care, and Somerville would be covered should the state provision become law. But both the state and local efforts reflect the impulse of many Democratic-leaning Massachusetts residents to act as they see health care rights being curtailed in other states.

“It is so important that we as a city and hopefully soon as a community take up the moral responsibility of standing up to bigoted laws and providing hope for not only our community here locally but across the country, where so many trans children and their families are experiencing an unbelievable amount of stress,” said Somerville City Councilor Willie Burnley Jr., who introduced the resolution.

According to the Guttmacher Institute, there are 26 states that are certain or likely to ban abortion if Roe v. Wade is overturned. The Freedom for All Americans campaign tracked 20 states considering laws that would ban gender-affirming health care for transgender youth – things like prescribing hormones or conducting sex reassignment surgery. Sen. Julian Cyr, a Truro Democrat, said during the Senate debate that Arkansas and Alabama already imposed bans on parents and providers providing gender-affirming care to children, punishable by prison time, though the bans are being challenged in court.

Friedman said her amendment is intended to target “bounty-style provisions” in anti-abortion laws in Texas and Oklahoma that let a private citizen bring a civil lawsuit against a Massachusetts resident who helps a Texas or Oklahoma resident get an abortion.

“There are two goals,” Friedman said. “One is to protect our providers and our residents who are legally accessing or providing care that we in Massachusetts have deemed safe and legal. The second thing is we’re trying to combat this insidious creeping of other state laws and values into our state.”

Friedman’s amendment, adopted on a voice vote, lets a person be sued civilly in Massachusetts if they bring litigation in another state trying to interfere with “legally protected health care activity” in Massachusetts, which includes gender-affirming and abortion care. It insulates doctors and other medical professionals from adverse licensing consequences for providing care that is legal in Massachusetts. It prohibits Massachusetts law enforcement agencies from providing information to out-of-state law enforcement related to legally protected health care. It prevents medical malpractice insurers from charging higher rates to doctors that provide this care. It lets pharmacists dispense emergency contraception over the counter. It also provides other legal protections ensuring that someone who performs or obtains health care in Massachusetts cannot face prosecution or a civil lawsuit here and cannot be extradited, even if they are residents of or assisting a resident of another state where the procedure is illegal.

If a Massachusetts doctor performs an abortion in a state where it is illegal, they could be prosecuted in that state.

The amendment got strong support in the Democratic-led Senate. “We have a right, we have a responsibility to safeguard the people that not only get their care in Massachusetts, but those who give that care in Massachusetts,” said Sen. Harriette Chandler, a Worcester Democrat, on the Senate floor.

Senate President Karen Spilka said in a statement that the Legislature “has affirmed time and again that the people of the Commonwealth will have their fundamental rights preserved and protected here in our state, regardless of what happens at the federal level, or in any other state.

In Somerville, Burnley plans to introduce a resolution and ordinance at Thursday’s meeting, so they can be worked on by a committee and voted on in June. The draft language focuses solely on gender-affirming care, but Burnley expects them to be expanded to include abortion.

The ordinance bans the Somerville police and city officials from complying with any request for information, beyond what is covered by the public records law, related to anyone seeking or providing gender-affirming care for the purpose of taking civil or criminal action against them.

Meet the Author

Shira Schoenberg

Reporter, CommonWealth

About Shira Schoenberg

Shira Schoenberg is a reporter at CommonWealth magazine. Shira previously worked for more than seven years at the Springfield Republican/MassLive.com where she covered state politics and elections, covering topics as diverse as the launch of the legal marijuana industry, problems with the state's foster care system and the elections of U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Gov. Charlie Baker. Shira won the Massachusetts Bar Association's 2018 award for Excellence in Legal Journalism and has had several stories win awards from the New England Newspaper and Press Association. Shira covered the 2012 New Hampshire presidential primary for the Boston Globe. Before that, she worked for the Concord (N.H.) Monitor, where she wrote about state government, City Hall and Barack Obama's 2008 New Hampshire primary campaign. Shira holds a master's degree from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism.

About Shira Schoenberg

Shira Schoenberg is a reporter at CommonWealth magazine. Shira previously worked for more than seven years at the Springfield Republican/MassLive.com where she covered state politics and elections, covering topics as diverse as the launch of the legal marijuana industry, problems with the state's foster care system and the elections of U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Gov. Charlie Baker. Shira won the Massachusetts Bar Association's 2018 award for Excellence in Legal Journalism and has had several stories win awards from the New England Newspaper and Press Association. Shira covered the 2012 New Hampshire presidential primary for the Boston Globe. Before that, she worked for the Concord (N.H.) Monitor, where she wrote about state government, City Hall and Barack Obama's 2008 New Hampshire primary campaign. Shira holds a master's degree from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism.

The accompanying resolution makes clear its purpose: “Transphobic laws create hostile environments for LGBTQIA+ youth, adults, and families that correlate with higher rates of mental illness and hopelessness,” it reads. “Laws that protect and affirm the humanity, dignity, gender identity, and bodily autonomy of members of the LGBTQIA+ community create supportive environments that correlate with their well-being and survival.”

Burnley acknowledged that municipalities have limited authority to address another state’s laws, but he hopes Somerville’s actions will spur action from other municipalities and the Legislature. “I’m trying to throw down the gauntlet to our state to say we need to be as bold as possible on these issues,” he said.