She was in her early 30s, in the second trimester of a pregnancy she wanted. Then, testing done by her doctor in Texas detected fetal development anomalies. The medical advice: She should terminate the pregnancy, if that was something she felt she could do. But not in Texas, where a new law bans most abortions after six weeks of pregnancy.
So last week, she traveled to Boston, where Dr. Aaron Hoffman performed an abortion. “It was an incredibly difficult, emotional event. But she got through this element in her life. She will be OK,” Hoffman told me. As he sees it, “She is emblematic of the lucky ones.” She had family in Massachusetts and the ability to get here. “How many others don’t have the financial resources? How many women will be forced to deliver a dead fetus?” he asked.
After hearing arguments last week concerning a Mississippi abortion law, a conservative-leaning Supreme Court seems primed to reverse or gut the landmark Roe v. Wade ruling of 1973, which legalized abortion across the country. If that happens, it will formalize the huge social, cultural, and legal gulf between states like Massachusetts that protect abortion rights and others that will choose to heavily restrict or ban abortion. As The New York Times reported, turning the clock back to pre-Roe days will force women to remain pregnant, seek illegal abortions, or drive to states where it remains legal. In Texas, that’s happening. The law there makes no exceptions for rape or incest, and exceptions for health reasons are narrowly drawn. After the law went into effect in September, legal abortions dropped by half, the Times reported, while some women sought care in neighboring states.
However, the demand has overwhelmed abortion providers in Texas border states, leading women to seek other destinations, like Massachusetts. “We know anecdotally that women are coming here, typically people who have family here,” Rebecca Hart Holder, executive director of Reproductive Equity Now (formerly NARAL Mass) told me. That, in turn, raises equity issues, between those who have financial resources and other support and those who don’t.
A nationwide system of abortion funding currently exists. But if Roe is history, advocates foresee a need to provide financial help to people in at least 26 states that are expected to ban or restrict abortions. Her mission, said Hart Holder, “is to make New England a place where, regardless of what happens in the Supreme Court, you can get access to abortion that’s not just legal, but accessible.” That means fighting for insurance coverage and against other barriers. Asked if she expected any political pushback, even in liberal Massachusetts, Hart Holder said, “I don’t know the answer to that. I hope not. We are known for providing some of the best health care in the world to people who come from around the world. I do believe we’ll be stepping up to the plate.”
It’s inevitable that anyone who wants an abortion will cross state lines to get one, said Hoffman, the doctor who provided an abortion to the woman from Texas. “What breaks my heart is that people are going to die. We are writing laws that are going to directly cause death and suffering,” he said. Abortion opponents will, of course, say they want to stop the death and suffering of the unborn. To that, Hoffman says, try looking into the eyes of a rape victim or a pregnant child. Or into the eyes of a woman who wanted her child but faced the possibility of a nonviable pregnancy. Because of insurance issues, Hoffman said, he couldn’t order a pathology report that would have given the woman from Texas a greater understanding of the medical risks of a future pregnancy.
Meanwhile, the Texas law empowers private citizens to sue anyone who performs an abortion or “aids and abets” one, and recover legal fees, plus $10,000 if they win. Does Hoffman worry the Texas law could somehow put him in legal jeopardy? “I will not have committed a crime in the state of Texas,” he said. “But I’m not an attorney. "
In Boston, he said, he feels safe and surrounded by people who support him.
So too, should the women who come here.
Joan Vennochi is a Globe columnist. She can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @joan_vennochi.