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Mass. secretary of state hopeful Tanisha Sullivan says office should advance abortion rights

Secretary of state candidate Tanisha Sullivan addressed the press on the State House steps Thursday afternoon.Sam Doran/SHNS

Tanisha Sullivan, the local NAACP president looking to unseat Secretary of State William F. Galvin, on Thursday called for the office to take a more active role in protecting abortion rights and cast her Democratic primary opponent as “anti-abortion,” repeating a charge she made earlier in the week.

Speaking at a State House news conference, Sullivan argued that the next Massachusetts secretary of state must “meet the moment” by using the office’s “full power” to advance reproductive rights. She argued that Galvin, the longtime incumbent who’s running for a historic eighth term in office, won’t do that.

“Some have asked, ‘What does the secretary of state have to do with abortion rights? And isn’t this an office that’s just about administering elections?’ Well, actually, this is a very important part of the responsibility of a secretary of state,” Sullivan said.

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Sullivan said that Galvin — who has been secretary of state for nearly three decades — voted against abortion rights while serving as state representative in the 1980s.

Sullivan highlighted that Galvin told the Globe in 2002 “I oppose abortion.” He clarified at the time this was a personal stance, and that abortion access is “a constitutionally settled question in Massachusetts.”

This week, at a debate where Sullivan argued that the secretary of state should be an advocate, she also sparred with Galvin over abortion.

Galvin said Thursday that he thinks “abortion is a personal decision of a woman.”

At the news conference, Sullivan laid out a reproductive rights plan she said is within the office’s authority.

If elected, Sullivan said she would attempt to block other states from using Massachusetts’ voting records to identify abortion providers or seekers. She would try to add questions to state forms corporations file that ask the firms to disclose whether they cover reproductive health care for their employees. She said she would also “collaborate” with the attorney general to ensure crisis pregnancy centers are truthful in their advertising.

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Galvin told the Globe that a law signed by Governor Charlie Baker already protects abortion providers from out-of-state prosecution. He said adding questions about reproductive health care to forms corporations file is the state Legislature’s purview, not the secretary’s. And he said he, too, would collaborate with the attorney general to ensure crisis pregnancy centers are truthful in their advertising, but said that the secretary of state’s office has no legal authority on the issue.

Sullivan was asked if there has been a time similar questions were added to state corporation forms. She said she is unaware of a precedent.

“The way that I see this office, I want to be clear, is innovative. it is visionary, but it is rooted in the powers that exist today,” Sullivan said.

The Democratic nominee for secretary of state is likely to face Whitman Republican Rayla Campbell in November.


Simon J. Levien was a Globe intern in 2022. Follow him on Twiitter @simonjlevien.