Fearing Roe v. Wade could be in jeopardy, Massachusetts in recent years has repealed “antiquated” antiabortion measures and expanded access to abortion, helping ensure it remains legal here regardless of federal judicial action.
Now, advocates say, the state should do more.
Massachusetts leaders on Tuesday gathered in front of the State House to decry a draft Supreme Court opinion obtained by Politico that indicated the court could be poised to overturn Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 ruling that legalized abortion nationwide.
Often speaking in pugilistic terms, Democratic leaders framed the leaked draft as an opportunity to organize, warning such a decision is likely just one of many coming to erode a broad spectrum of rights. They also praised actions state lawmakers have taken to ensure abortion remains legal in Massachusetts, including in 2020, when the Legislature passed what was known as the Roe Act to codify the right into law.
But with the prospect of out-of-state residents increasingly turning to Massachusetts for abortion care, legislative leaders and advocates suggested more legislative steps could be coming.
The Massachusetts House included a $500,000 earmark in its recently passed state budget proposal to help expand abortion access, an amount the Senate could also embrace when it takes up its own budget plan later this month.
Carol Rose, executive director of the ACLU of Massachusetts, said lawmakers should also consider legislation similar to that in Connecticut, where lawmakers last week passed a bill they said would protect both in-state abortion providers from litigation initiated by states that have banned abortion, as well as the patients themselves.
“This leak . . . is going to be the spark that really lights a fire under the Legislature to act, and not just assume, while they’ve done a great job in passing the Roe Act, [but] we need to do more,” Rose said. “We cannot sit back. We have to go forward.”
Senate President Karen E. Spilka suggested she is open to more legislative maneuvering. The Legislature is scheduled to end formal sessions on July 31.
“I would like to look at everything,” the Ashland Democrat said. “We keep saying it’s only a draft, but it’s a matter of time before it becomes a real opinion. I think we do need to mobilize . . . statutorily. It’s up to the states to take action right now.”
The leaked draft opinion, written by Justice Samuel Alito and published by Politico Monday night, is not final and may not be released for a month or more. But Democrats framed it as a clarion call, including politically.
Representative Katherine Clark of Revere, the fourth-highest-ranking House Democrat, called it time for Democrats to “flex our electoral muscle.”
“Today we are faced with the reality that women are going to be forced into pregnancy, that women who have been victims of rape, incest, whose pregnancy may determine whether they live or die, will not have that right to make a decision,” she said.
“Today is the day we galvanize,” she added. “We can despair, and then we organize.”
Boston Mayor Michelle Wu, saying she has “suited up for battle,” called a portion of the Supreme Court “a far-right court majority that doesn’t pretend to care, that doesn’t see us, doesn’t want to hear us.”
“We are all better off when a young person in our communities can access the health care they need without fear that they’ll end up on the street or in jail,” Wu said. “We are all more connected when a pregnant survivor of assault has options and support that makes her feel less alone.”
If the decision is released in something similar to its current form, it would undo federal abortion protections and create a patchwork of laws nationwide where abortions are legal only in some places — including Massachusetts, where the Legislature overrode Governor Charlie Baker’s veto in 2020 to pass a law codifying those rights.
The Massachusetts law allows abortions before 24 weeks of pregnancy, abortions after 24 weeks in pregnancies with a fatal fetal anomaly, and abortions that a doctor determines to be necessary ”to preserve the patient’s physical or mental health.” It also lowered the age under which pregnant people had to seek approval from a parent or judge to access an abortion, from 18 to 16.
Baker, a second-term Republican, supports abortion rights, putting him at odds with the conservative leadership of — and many within — the state Republican party. He said he vetoed the proposal, in part, because he opposed the provision allowing 16-year-olds and 17-year-olds to get abortions without parental consent.
On Tuesday, Baker wrote on Twitter that a Supreme Court ruling overturning Roe v. Wade would be “massive setback for women in states without responsible laws” protecting abortion access.
”I am proud to support every woman’s right to choose,” Baker wrote, “and I am proud that [Massachusetts] has and will always protect every woman’s right to choose what is best for them.”
The Massachusetts Republican Party has criticized the Legislature’s recent efforts, including the $500,000 earmark, which chairman Jim Lyons called “outrageous” and evidence of what he said was Democrats’ “cult-like . . . thirst for more and more abortions to be performed in Massachusetts.”
Geoff Diehl, a former state lawmaker running in the GOP gubernatorial primary, said in statement Tuesday that the 2020 abortion rights law legislators passed was “an extreme bill as a radical move too far by state legislators here in our state.”
“We both believe in and reaffirm the need to protect human life wherever and whenever possible,” Diehl and Leah Allen, a lieutenant governor candidate, said in a joint statement.
Chris Doughty, another Republican gubernatorial candidate, said in a statement Tuesday that he would not “seek any changes to our state’s abortion laws,” if elected. “The right to abortion is enshrined in the Massachusetts constitution,” he said.
Rachael Rollins, US Attorney for the District of Massachusetts, appeared with fellow Democrats at the State House on Tuesday, when she focused on what has already been done: The Department of Justice, she said, has filed lawsuits fighting restrictive abortion laws in Texas; monitoring domestic terrorism related to limiting abortion access; and arguing against the Mississippi law banning abortion, the subject of the draft opinion leaked Monday.
“When we are in lockstep together, I believe we can make sure that there’s equality for all,” Rollins said.
Massachusetts House Speaker Ronald Mariano called on people to elect “people who understand what this freedom means to every woman in the country.”
“We don’t want to raise the first generation who has less freedoms than their mothers,” Mariano said, warning that other rights could be at risk beyond abortion access, including if Republicans take control of Congress. “They’re coming folks. They’re coming after gay marriage, they’re coming after all the rights that we’ve fought so hard to install in our laws.
“Pretty soon the only laws that will matter will be for white old guys like me. Everything else will be gone,” he added. “If you don’t believe that is the goal, I think you better start paying attention.”