Kate Dineen could have grieved quietly. She could have left the most traumatic experience of her life in the past. Instead, she found the tenacity to change the law so no other woman would be forced to leave Massachusetts for an abortion.
Dineen’s story is as heart wrenching as it is infuriating, and it is ultimately a beacon in a year in which so many women around the country lost reproductive rights when the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade.
Despite living in a state that prides itself on having some of the strongest abortion laws in the country, Dineen could not get one in July 2021 when she was 33 weeks pregnant. Her unborn son had suffered a catastrophic stroke, and there was a 50 percent chance he could die before birth. If he survived, his life would be short and painful.
Her doctors at Massachusetts General Hospital refused to give her an abortion, citing the limitations of a state law related to terminating a pregnancy after 24 weeks. Instead she and her husband had to travel 500 miles to a clinic in Maryland for the medical procedure, then return to Mass. General to deliver her lifeless baby.
They made the arduous journey and found Dr. LeRoy “Lee” Carhart to perform the procedure. She named her son Edward “Teddy” Lee Dineen-Lawton and would later explain in a letter to Mass. General that his “middle name is Lee to honor Dr. Carhart, who gave him peace when my doctors at MGH could not.”
Two months later, Dineen began meeting with Reproductive Equity Now and the American Civil Liberties Union, as well as state Representative Lindsay Sabadosa of Northampton, a longtime champion of reproductive justice. Dineen knew what needed to be done: amend the state’s abortion law to account for diagnoses like hers.
Dineen proved to be an uncommonly effective advocate. She’s a lobbyist by training. Typically she’s up at the State House pushing for better transportation policies on behalf of the business community. This time the issue was deeply personal.
Strengthening abortion rights took on new urgency in May after a leaked Supreme Court draft opinion indicated Roe would be reversed. Nullifying that landmark ruling would mean it would be up to individual states to determine whether abortion remained legal.
Soon after, Dineen courageously shared the details of her abortion in a front-page article in the Globe. Her experience served as a wake-up call to lawmakers, some of whom reached out to Dineen directly, including Representative Aaron Michlewitz, chairman of the House’s Ways and Means Committee. After a contentious debate, the Legislature negotiated language that would allow for abortions in cases such as Dineen’s as part of a broader package to expand reproductive rights. On July 29, a year after Dineen was forced to travel out of state for an abortion, Governor Charlie Baker signed the bill into law.
“There was a huge hesitation about being so vulnerable in such a public way,” Dineen says today about her decision to share her story. “But for me, my driving force was to try and ensure that other people didn’t have to go through what I went through.”
Shirley Leung is a Business columnist. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.