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JOAN VENNOCHI

What does abortion have to do with being secretary of state in Massachusetts?

Massachusetts Secretary of State Bill Galvin speaks during the 2018 Massachusetts Democratic Party Convention in Worcester in June.
Massachusetts Secretary of State Bill Galvin speaks during the 2018 Massachusetts Democratic Party Convention in Worcester in June.Michael Dwyer/AP

So, the hot issue in the Democratic primary fight for secretary of state in Massachusetts is going to be — abortion rights?

They’re irrelevant to the official job description, which includes overseeing historical and public records, the registry of deeds, and corporate and lobbyist registration. But Josh Zakim, the Boston city councilor who’s challenging longtime incumbent Bill Galvin, is trying to make Galvin’s antiabortion voting record from decades past a reason to oust him from his current job.

Galvin calls abortion “a personal moral choice.” That harks back to an era when Catholics running for office could safely say they were personally opposed to abortion but supported Roe v. Wade as the law of the land. But that’s not good enough for today’s progressives, who are already acting on fears that Roe v. Wade could soon be repealed or weakened. Under Massachusetts law, abortion is legal. But this month, the Legislature also passed the NASTY Women Act (Negating Archaic Statutes Targeting Young Women), a bill that repealed a 173-year-old law against “procuring a miscarriage.” Republican Governor Charlie Baker said he will sign it.

Feeding into that general anxiety, Zakim this week released a campaign video that features President Trump nominating conservative Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court and then cuts to female supporters explaining why it’s important to elect politicians who are abortion-rights proponents. Along with the video, Zakim also posted this statement: “With Roe v. Wade hanging in the balance, Massachusetts needs elected officials who share and reflect our values, no matter what office they hold. I will never waver on standing up for a woman’s right to choose.”

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Strategically, it makes sense for Zakim to use abortion rights as a way to separate himself from a candidate with a 24-year grip on the office. But is it a legitimate reason to vote against Galvin? When I asked Zakim to point to a decision Galvin made or could make as secretary of state that affects abortion rights, he couldn’t. He referred back to Galvin’s votes as a lawmaker, saying, “When Secretary Galvin has had the opportunity to vote, he voted time and time again for severe restrictions. This is, to my mind, a core value. . . . It’s something voters want to know.”

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According to information compiled by the Zakim campaign, in 1983 Galvin voted for a constitutional amendment to ban all abortions in Massachusetts. In 1984, he voted to amend the state Constitution to provide for restrictions on abortion in Massachusetts. The Zakim campaign also cites more recent instances when Galvin was endorsed as a an antiabortion candidate.

In a telephone interview, Galvin said, “I was never endorsed or sought the endorsement of any group like that.” However, Democrats for Life, a Washington-based organization, still has a 2014 press release on its website listing candidates, including Galvin, who were endorsed for their “consistent effort to defend and protect life at all stages.” Asked about that, a Galvin representative said Galvin “never sought or received their endorsement.” In 2002, the Globe reported that a group opposed to abortion rights was urging Republicans and Independents to register as Democrats so they could support Galvin, who was briefly a candidate for governor. The letters were sent without consulting Galvin, the Globe reported.

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Galvin says he can’t recall the circumstances of his votes. Basically, he argues the issue is irrelevant to the office he holds. “This is an effort to fear-monger among women and distract people from the fact that he has no qualifications,” said Galvin about Zakim’s attack.

He’s right about the fear-mongering. But this is politics in 2018: How does a relative newcomer like Zakim, 34, frame issues in a way that separates himself from a 67-year-old opponent and the political Ice Age he represents?

One way is simply to remind the electorate that Galvin was casting votes on Beacon Hill in 1983 — the same year Zakim was born. That the vote was about abortion is part of Galvin’s record as a lawmaker, but has nothing to do with the job he has done as secretary of state.


Joan Vennochi can be reached at vennochi@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @Joan_Vennochi.