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

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.

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.

SHIRA SCHOENBERG

 

FROM COMMONWEALTH

Bids rejected on MBTA’s Quincy garage: The MBTA rejected bids to build a new Quincy bus garage and maintenance facility because they came in $79 million higher than expected. The new garage, a key first step in electrifying the T’s bus fleet, now has to go back to the drawing board to pare the cost back.

“The MBTA is committed to advancing this project and is currently evaluating the scope and options to bring the cost down without impacting the core functionality of the building,” said T spokesman Joe Pesaturo in an email. “The MBTA is also evaluating alternative delivery methods for re-procurement with a goal of minimizing any delay in the project schedule.” Read more.

Sexting, revenge porn: A bill giving police options to deal with teenage sexting and revenge porn is coming up for a vote in the House, five years after Gov. Charlie Baker initially proposed the legislation. Read more.

PFAS lawsuit: Attorney General Maura Healey sued 13 manufacturers of PFAS chemicals, claiming the firms knowingly marketed and sold the so-called forever chemicals even though they knew they were dangerous. The lawsuit claims the chemicals have contaminated 126 public drinking water systems in 86 communities. Read more.

Wind cap a bit squishy: State officials released the contracts for the latest offshore wind procurements, and they come in under the price of the previous procurement but only because a discount on that previous procurement hasn’t kicked in yet. Officials say the original bid price sets the price cap. Read more.

 

FROM AROUND THE WEB

 

BEACON HILL

On Beacon Hill and in Congress, the Uvalde shooting revives debates about strengthening gun laws. (Gloucester Daily Times) MassLive has more on the discussions among Massachusetts state legislators. 

The Senate votes to double funding for security grants to religious institutions and nonprofits, amid increasing threats. (MassLive)

MUNICIPAL MATTERS  

The expansion of Massachusetts Biomedical Initiatives’ biomedical center marks a step in making the Worcester area a new hub for life sciences companies. (Telegram & Gazette)

Quincy has spent $44 million in ARPA money on COVID expenses, land purchases, employee bonus pay, and hiring new staff. (Patriot Ledger)

New Bedford considers using drones to crack down on rogue ATV and dirt bike drivers. (Standard-Times)

HEALTH/HEALTH CARE

Despite the state’s strong abortion rights laws, there is no clinic providing abortion services across the entire South Coast, Cape Cod, or the Islands. (New Bedford Light

Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders tours Western Massachusetts – but avoids stopping at the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home, where the state is in the process of settling litigation over a 2020 COVID outbreak. (MassLive)

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

There is little prospect of movement in the Senate to strengthen gun laws, despite the massacre at Robb Elementary School in Texas. (New York Times)  

ELECTIONS

Andrea Campbell, who has been dogged by her primary rivals in the race for attorney general about a super PAC that supported her Boston mayoral run last year, is getting a boost from mailers sent by a different super PAC, this one affiliated with the Environmental League of Massachusetts. (Boston Globe

While the Republican contest for governor often seems oddly detached from a focus on Massachusetts issues, Herald columnist Peter Lucas says the road to possible, even if unlikely, GOP victory is to further “nationalize” the race with talk about the baby formula shortage, Afghanistan and other problems.. 

EDUCATION

A Boston School Committee member seemed to doubt the selection of a new superintendent will be complete by the end of June and suggested that the district may need to hire an interim superintendent when Brenda Cassellius departs on June 30. (Boston Herald

A new contract with Boston school bus drivers aims to crack down on absenteeism, a move that city officials will help with erratic transportation services that have plagued the district. (Boston Globe

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

Volunteers try to heal thousands of acres of salt marsh between Ispwich and Newbury, which can’t adapt to higher sea levels. (Salem News)

CRIMINAL JUSTICE/COURTS

Paul Gauvin, a veteran Fall River police officer, is named the city’s new police chief. (Herald News)