On Beacon Hill and beyond, women seeking male allies
“We need you guys” might not be a top-selling T-shirt at the next Women’s March, but it’s a message that women’s rights advocates are increasingly comfortable sending in a national climate growing hostile to reproductive rights. And it’s one that men in leadership positions — like 2020 Democratic presidential hopefuls Cory Booker and Pete Buttigieg — have been amplifying.
After Alabama took steps to ban abortion recently, Booker, a US senator from New Jersey, wrote an open letter in GQ to all men, urging them to action. “Women should not have to face this fight alone,” he wrote, adding that “all people deserve to control their own bodies.”
In Massachusetts, abortion rights advocates who are countering the national trend by trying to expand abortion access actively sought a male ally to sponsor legislation on Beacon Hill.
“We felt strongly that as one of our co-leads, we needed a man,” NARAL Pro-Choice Massachusetts’ executive director, Rebecca Hart Holder, recently told supporters.
Not in a white-knight way, but because women’s issues can be relegated to second-class status unless they are framed as a matter of economic equality and racial justice, she noted.
“Men have to have skin in the game just as much as women do on reproductive freedom issues,” she said. “And honestly, there are quite a few men in the Legislature who really understood.”
On Beacon Hill, men are lead sponsors of numerous issues once regarded as female concerns. Representative Jack Patrick Lewis, a Framingham Democrat, teamed up with Representative Natalie Higgins, a Leominster Democrat, to sponsor a bill that aims to end sexual violence by teaching students about sexual consent, starting in kindergarten.
A few weeks ago, Lewis testified about the bill in the State House with his own kindergartner, Rafael, on his lap. “I’m doing what many of us who are parents do,” he told those assembled at the hearing. “We try to juggle. We try to balance.”
“As the parent of three boys, our family puts a great focus on the need to respect other people’s bodies,” Lewis said. “What our families need though is a Commonwealth that has that same respect codified into law. Which is why I am so committed to passing legislation that requires that sex education be scientifically accurate and inclusive of units on consent . . . along with state laws that truly respect a woman’s right to her own health care decisions.”
Lewis is also one of many cosponsors of the abortion access bill, known as the Roe Act. A lead sponsor — the guy who took up NARAL’s charge — is state Representative Jay Livingstone, a Back Bay Democrat honored by NARAL last month with an “Elected for Choice” award.
His bill would codify abortion rights into state law, eliminate a parental consent requirement for minors, and allow a woman carrying a fetus diagnosed with a fatal anomaly to have an abortion after 24 weeks.
Currently in Massachusetts, later abortions are allowed only to save a woman’s life or safeguard her health. A woman carrying a fetus with a fatal anomaly must either continue the pregnancy — anticipating that the baby will die soon after birth, if not before — or travel to another state where the late procedure is legal, often Colorado.
State Representative Tommy Vitolo, a Brookline Democrat who had a constituent in just such a situation, sees it as a matter of economic justice to accommodate families like hers facing agonizing medical decisions.
“It shouldn’t only be the people with the resources to fly to Colorado who have access,” Vitolo said.
But opponents fear that if later abortions are permitted in those circumstances, they will ultimately be permitted in any circumstances. And like President Trump, they continue to claim falsely that later abortions will lead to fetuses somehow surviving abortion attempts and being left to die in clinics.
So, on the day he received accolades from NARAL, Livingstone was pilloried by the Massachusetts Republican Party, which blasted him in Facebook ads as the sponsor of “the infanticide act.”
Livingstone — just in case this must be said — is not an advocate of infanticide. (He brought his wife, toddler, and baby to accept the NARAL award.) He wants women who get horrible news about their pregnancies to be able to get treatment from their own doctors here in Massachusetts.
“We have the best health care in the United States,” Livingstone told the NARAL crowd.
Livingstone urged abortion rights activists to thank other legislators who are standing up for women’s rights and are being “personally attacked with the worst, most outrageous rhetoric.”
Vitolo, for one, said it’s a matter of principle.
“For me, it’s a values vote. I believe that all women should have autonomy over their bodies,” Vitolo said.
Then, he added thoughtfully: “Men, too.”