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Women leaders join new campaign to codify abortion rights in state law

Attorney General Maura Healey spoke at a hearing in June about expanding abortion access in Massachusetts.Suzanne Kreiter/Globe Staff/Globe staff

Tapping the appeal of some of Boston’s most popular elected women, reproductive rights advocates are launching a social media campaign Monday to try to jump-start action on an abortion-rights bill that House members have resisted as extreme.

Attorney General Maura Healey, US Representative Ayanna Pressley, and Boston City Councilors Michelle Wu and Lydia Edwards vouch for the bill in short videos that highlight the barriers women face getting abortions here.

“Massachusetts, we have to do better,” is the message they convey.

The weeklong ad buy targets readers of Politico, Facebook, Youtube, and MASSterlist, a Beacon Hill roundup of news and commentary, and was paid for by NARAL Pro-Choice Massachusetts, one of the groups pushing the so-called Roe Act.


The bill would codify into state law the principles of Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court ruling that made abortion legal, and lift some of the restrictions that can delay or deter abortions.

On Monday, NARAL and its partners — the ACLU of Massachusetts and Planned Parenthood Advocacy Fund of Massachusetts — plan a press conference outside the State House at which they will also announce new support from unions, including the Massachusetts Teachers Association, American Federation of Teachers, Boston Teachers Union, and Massachusetts Nurses Association SEIU Local 509 and 1199s SEIU.

“This really is the time to act,” said the bill’s chief sponsor, Representative Jay Livingstone, noting that a Supreme Court reshaped by conservatives, including Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh, just took up an abortion case.

“That’s the first time the Kavanaugh court is going to have a chance to gut Roe v. Wade and really limit women’s rights,” Livingstone said.

“Massachusetts, in this context, needs to make sure that we’re showing the country what access should be provided and fully guaranteeing our citizens their rights in Massachusetts.”


Abortion would remain a protected right under the Massachusetts Constitution even if Roe were overturned. However, other unenforced laws that remain on the books — including one that mandates a 24-hour waiting period for an abortion — could be enforced, creating additional barriers to the ones already in place, he said.

“We think we’re a beacon of progressive values — especially because we’re the first state to have marriage equality,” Edwards said in an interview. “I think a lot of people would be surprised.”

In the social media ads, supporters note that Massachusetts law does not allow abortions after 24 weeks, even in cases in which the baby cannot survive. That leads women to travel far out of state to end doomed pregnancies.

Text on the screen warns: “This is happening in Massachusetts.”

Kate Carson, a middle school teacher, talks about what she had to do to get an abortion at 35 weeks of pregnancy when she learned tat her baby would not survive severe brain anomalies. She flew to Colorado and spent four days in the hospital for an abortion that cost $25,000 upfront, she says on camera.

“I don’t think it should be a mass decision and a political decision what I can and can’t do for my family in my body,” she says on camera.

Edwards tells of her experience as a law clerk in Superior Court, watching a girl seek a judge’s permission to have an abortion.

“I remember thinking the entire time, I had no business and no right to be part of this girl’s very personal decision,” Edwards says on the ad.


Currently, anyone under 18 who seeks an abortion needs the consent of a parent or an order from a judge. The bill would eliminate the current age restriction and do away with the courtroom proceedings used as an alternative.

But action has stalled, and some House members have expressed discomfort with the proposed elimination of an age restriction on abortion.

Voters also expressed ambivalence about the proposal in a Suffolk University/Boston Globe poll released in June; while 46 percent supported that aspect of the legislation, 41.3 percent were opposed, with a margin of error of 4 percentage points.

“We understand that this is the part of the bill that needs the most public education,” said Rebecca Hart Holder, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Massachusetts. “This is the part of the bill that hits parents personally.”

Lawmakers are beginning to consider other approaches that may prove less controversial.

Connecticut law, for instance, allows abortion earlier, at age 16, which is the age of consent in Massachusetts, and it calls for adult oversight to be provided by the doctor, rather than a judge.

“It seems so invasive — this young girl who may not want people to know that she is pregnant, who doesn’t feel comfortable telling her parents she’s pregnant, now has to tell a judge,” Edwards said. “There was no adult or anybody in the room to determine if she was mature enough to get pregnant.”


But abortion opponents have pushed back fiercely against all aspects of the bill.

“We need to ensure that children have a responsible adult consenting to serious medical procedures — as parents are required to sign consents to administer Tylenol in school, or have tonsils removed or ears pierced,” said Kerry Pound, a doctor and the vice president of Massachusetts Citizens for Life.

In fiery testimony at a June public hearing, at a State House rally, and in online advertising, they have accused lawmakers of supporting infanticide.

“We do have to do better. Unfortunately, the so-called ROE Act will only make things worse,” said Myrna Maloney Flynn, president of Massachusetts Citizens for Life.

Stephanie Ebbert can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @StephanieEbbert.