The nationwide campaign to curb abortion rights through grass-roots political action has arrived in Massachusetts.
Antiabortion advocates are launching a petition initiative to amend the state constitution to deny funding for abortions for women on MassHealth, the state’s Medicaid program. It’s an attempt to circumvent the courts and would deny crucial health services to people who can least afford alternatives.
Massachusetts is one of 17 states in the country where state-funded abortions are allowed, thanks to a 1981 court decision. The Supreme Judicial Court ruling stated that the Commonwealth’s constitution guarantees Medicaid-eligible pregnant women the right to nondiscriminatory funding for abortion. And so it should remain.
The impact of overriding state abortion law through the ballot would disproportionately hit minority women living in poverty, said Dr. Jennifer Childs-Roshak, president of the Planned Parenthood Advocacy Fund of Massachusetts. “When you deny them abortion coverage, it does create some serious hardships. We know they’re more likely to fall into poverty and rely on public assistance.”
Medicaid abortion restrictions appear to delay some women having abortions by two to three weeks in order to come up with the money to pay for the procedure privately. Any time a delay happens, it increases the cost and medical risks even further.
Most Massachusetts voters understand the important role of government support. Childs-Roshak pointed to a poll conducted recently by Planned Parenthood of Massachusetts that showed 65 percent of voters support government funding for abortion to low-income residents.
Ever since a woman’s right to a safe abortion was ruled constitutionally protected in 1973, antiabortion activists have targeted states in efforts to roll it back. But the pace has increased in recent years. Between 2001 and 2010, states passed a total of 189 abortion restrictions. Last year alone, 19 state legislatures enacted 60 new abortion restrictions.
In Massachusetts, abortion rates have been falling, mirroring a national trend of historic lows. The trend has nothing to do with abortion restrictions, though: Better access to affordable birth control and to contraceptive methods that are more effective than ever are two big reasons why. The state was a trailblazer by expanding access under Romneycare.
The earliest that the antiabortion petition could appear on the ballot is 2020. But it’s never too early for legislators and the public to stand up to a pernicious attempt to play politics with poor women’s access to health care.