Governor Deval Patrick told an energized crowd rallying in support of access to contraception and abortion Tuesday to not be discouraged by recent US Supreme Court rulings.
“You’ve got a Legislature, legislative leadership, and a governor who want to make this right,” Patrick told hundreds assembled at City Hall Plaza. “Come make a claim on your government and tell your stories, above all, because we have to build the record that will sustain the legislation I believe we can move and get enacted before the session ends at the end of this month.”
Cheers rose from the plaza, where the crowd had gathered to voice outrage at recent rulings that struck down a Massachusetts law banning protesters within 35 feet of abortion clinics and that approved of a religious exemption to the federal requirement that employers cover contraception in insurance plans.
Patrick and state Attorney General Martha Coakley, who is seeking the Democratic nomination to succeed him, have called for new legislation to crack down on harassment and obstruction outside abortion clinics.
Speaking among dozens of elected officials and candidates at the Supreme Rally for Women’s Equality, which was organized by NARAL Pro-Choice Massachusetts, Planned Parenthood of Massachusetts, and a host of other groups, the state’s first African-American governor compared the rulings to earlier decisions from the nation’s highest court.
“There was a time when the Supreme Court said that there weren’t any rights for me that white people needed to acknowledge or care about,” Patrick said. “Once upon a time, it was the law of the land that same-sex couples couldn’t marry, in Massachusetts or a whole [lot] of other places.”
Coakley told the crowd of women and men, “Let’s just not get angry — let’s get even.” She said the decisions are among many obstacles impeding women’s efforts to achieve full equality with men.
“For women, it’s always been a little bit harder, and what the Supreme Court did last week certainly makes it a little bit harder still,” she said.
Earlier Tuesday, the anti-abortion group Massachusetts Citizens for Life called on state legislators not to heed the urging of Patrick and Coakley to adopt “new legislation that in all likelihood will lead to more litigation due to infringement on the right of citizens to use the public sidewalk for the two primary methods of communicating their message to persons entering abortion clinics: close personal conversation and distribution of literature.”
The letter, signed by three of the group’s leaders, called out Coakley for her support of the previous buffer zone law.
“Please think carefully as to whether or not the latest version will pass constitutional muster,” it said. “Remember, she convinced you before that her bill would do so, and she was dead wrong.”
Outside City Hall, though, among the men and women, gay and straight, of many ages, ethnic backgrounds, and communities, there appeared to be a unified opposition to any government action that would inhibit a woman’s options.
Judy Otto was among a group of about 50 Lexington residents who traveled to the rally on a bus. She said she recalled the days before the Supreme Court’s1973 decision in Roe v. Wade gave women access to legal abortions.
Otto, 70, said she had “college and high school friends . . . who had to seek out alternative women’s reproductive care. We all suffered through it.”
She added, “We weren’t even supposed to use contraceptives back then, and now we can’t get them from some employers — but you can get Viagra.”