In the face of new threats to Roe v. Wade at the federal level, Massachusetts took a stand today by passing proactive legislation to decriminalize abortion and protect access to reproductive health care. The bill, S.2260, overturns archaic pre-Roe Massachusetts statutes that date back to the 1800s, and guarantees access to abortion without fear of punishment for women or health care providers.
“The vote to pass S.2260 was a decade in the making, and its passage proves that Massachusetts is ready to lead the way in ensuring access to abortion and contraceptive care, especially given the threat to our basic rights on the federal level” said Rebecca Hart Holder, Executive Director of NARAL Pro-Choice Massachusetts. “We are grateful to the Massachusetts House and Senate for acting swiftly to protect reproductive health care in Massachusetts. We call on Governor Charlie Baker to sign the bill into law. Repealing antiquated laws is the first, critical step to ensuring that even if Roe v. Wade were overturned tomorrow, the reproductive freedom of the people of Massachusetts would be unequivocally protected. With this win, Massachusetts now has the momentum necessary to push even further, having laid the groundwork to take the next steps to enshrine protections for abortion access in state law and become a safe haven state for reproductive health care.”
“The best defense against a hostile president, Congress, and Supreme Court is a strong state-level offense, and NIRH was proud to partner with NARAL Pro-Choice Massachusetts to pass this legislation to decriminalize abortion in the state,” said Andrea Miller, President of the National Institute for Reproductive Health. “Repealing this antiquated law that criminalized abortion care in Massachusetts – and opened the door for prosecutors to take legal action against health care providers and women who end their own pregnancies – exemplifies what states can and must do to safeguard access to abortion care. Massachusetts has paved the way for neighboring states like New York to finally update their outdated laws criminalizing abortion care. All states, and especially “blue states” where change should already be possible, need to act immediately to ensure abortion remains accessible, no matter what happens in the Supreme Court.”
2260, initially filed by Senate President Harriette Chandler, and championed in the House by Speaker Pro Tempore Patricia Haddad and Majority Whip Byron Rushing, easily cleared both the Massachusetts Senate and House, and now goes to Gov. Charlie Baker to be signed. It will remove all of the outdated and unconstitutional laws listed below, all of which are unconstitutional under state and federal court decisions, and none of which have any standing relevance to modern-day life, including:
- A law that makes it illegal to “procur[e] a miscarriage;” and carries stiff penalties
- A ban on unmarried people accessing abortion and contraception;
- A ban on distributing information on how to procure contraception or abortion care;
- A law which punishes doctors, pharmacists, and all healthcare providers for distributing contraception or providing abortion care;
- A ban on adultery;
- A ban on fornication.
A number of other states across the country have considered legislation to decriminalize abortion care and otherwise update their state laws to safeguard access if and when the Supreme Court further guts or even overturns Roe v. Wade. NIRH has been shepherding New York’s Reproductive Health Act (RHA), which would remove outdated criminal abortion bans that threaten both women and health care providers and enshrine new protections into New York’s law, with a renewed push in the wake of the nomination of Judge Kavanaugh for the Supreme Court. Rhode Island is currently considering a similar bill to decriminalize abortion in that state; last year Delaware passed a law repealing its pre-Roe abortion law; and Illinois rescinded its law that would have outlawed abortion if Roe is overturned.
“This is just the beginning,” Miller concluded. “NIRH looks forward to continuing to work with our partners like NARAL Pro-Choice Massachusetts and those in other states to advance more policies that safeguard reproductive freedom, ensuring that states are doing all they can in this new environment to protect and advance reproductive health, rights, and justice.”