BOSTON—Hundreds of medical providers, educators, parents, teens, and advocates flooded the Massachusetts State House Thursday to ask their state lawmakers to support legislation that will dismantle persistent barriers to safe, legal abortion. Organizers hosted the event, Sexual Health Lobby Day: Equity. Access. Abortion., to set the stage for a new legislative session that prioritizes sexual health care and reproductive rights for all Massachusetts residents.
Massachusetts has led the way in the fight against federal threats to health care, passing laws to defend copay-free contraception, protect confidential health care, and eliminate archaic bans on abortion and birth control. As part of the Lobby Day, the Coalition for Choice, led by NARAL Pro-Choice Massachusetts, Planned Parenthood Advocacy Fund of Massachusetts, the ACLU of Massachusetts, and Massachusetts Family Planning Association, honored House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo, Speaker Pro Tempore Patricia A. Haddad, Senate President Karen E. Spilka and Senate President Emerita Harriette L. Chandler for their leadership to pass these laws.
“I’m proud of the work the House did to protect the rights of women to make their own choices about their health – making Massachusetts a safer, healthier and more just Commonwealth,” said House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo. “I am truly honored to share this award with Senate President Spilka, Senate President Emerita Chandler and Speaker Pro Tempore Haddad.”
“Massachusetts has shown time and time and time again that we will not back down when it comes to protecting women’s health care and reproductive rights,” said Senate President Karen E. Spilka (D-Ashland). “We sent a powerful message to Washington and the entire nation by helping sign the NASTY Women Act, the Access Bill and the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act into law this past legislative session. A woman’s health care decisions are hers alone to make, and we must continue to uphold and protect reproductive rights in Massachusetts.”
In the new legislative session, advocates will champion An Act to Remove Obstacles to Expand Abortion Access, or the ROE Act (S.D. 109, H.D. 178). The ROE Act will improve access to affordable abortion by removing medically unnecessary, burdensome provisions and treating safe, legal abortion as all other health care. The legislation is sponsored by Senate President Emerita Harriette L. Chandler, Speaker Pro Tempore Patricia A. Haddad, and State Representative Jay D. Livingstone.
“I have fought for my entire career to ensure that women’s healthcare is placed front and center on Beacon Hill’s legislative agenda – because Massachusetts needs to lead the nation on comprehensive, safe, and accessible women’s healthcare,” said Senate President Emerita Harriette L. Chandler (D-Worcester). “The ROE Act breaks down barriers that women still face when trying to access abortion and contraceptive care. I am proud to sponsor this bill in honor of all the women who came before me and struggled to get the services they needed. And I will fight for the ROE Act so that future generations may live in a safer and healthier world.”
The ROE Act, among other provisions, eliminates the onerous judicial bypass process teenagers must navigate to access safe, legal abortion, includes abortion in the pregnancy-related safety-net coverage
provided to Massachusetts residents ineligible for MassHealth coverage, expands access to abortion after 24 weeks of pregnancy in cases of fatal fetal anomalies, reforms state law to remove inflammatory definitions and medically unnecessary restrictions, and codifies the principles of reproductive freedom into state law.
“Now more than ever, Massachusetts must seize the opportunity to protect, affirm, and build upon the principle of reproductive freedom,” said Speaker Pro Tempore Patricia A. Haddad (D-Somerset). “Every person deserves access to the health care they need, without facing down a gauntlet of obstacles, that includes safe, legal abortion. With the ROE Act, Massachusetts will dismantle the persistent barriers that block people from care and will blaze a trail forward for reproductive rights.”
This legislation is an important step to make health care more accessible and affordable to everyone and to ensure abortion is not targeted by those trying to impose their political ideologies on others. Under current law, people seeking safe, legal abortion may be forced to travel out of state, fundraise, and put their safety and privacy at risk, delaying and in some cases denying, their ability to access care and make their own decisions. Supporters of the bill said the following:
“Individual rights and freedoms, including the right to access safe and legal abortion, are at the heart of who we are as a Commonwealth, but that commitment to reproductive freedom and equitable health care access is missing from our current laws around abortion,” said Dr. Jennifer Childs-Roshak, president of Planned Parenthood Advocacy Fund of Massachusetts. “In a state known for its commitment to health care, our laws must trust patients to trust medical professionals, end government intrusion into personal medical decisions, and declare that abortion is health care.”
“Reproductive freedom is a Massachusetts value, but our laws simply do not reflect that. Now, at a time when reproductive freedom is under attack across the country, Massachusetts must work to ensure that all Bay Staters have access to the resources and care they need to make informed decisions about their futures. Last session, the Legislature took critical steps forward to safeguard reproductive freedom. Next, we must set the national standard on access to abortion care. Massachusetts led the nation on universal healthcare (2006) and same-sex marriage (2004) and we will lead again on access to abortion,” said Rebecca Hart Holder, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Massachusetts.
“As a 16-year-old black girl, navigating the health care system was completely overwhelming. Then, in order to move forward with my decision, I had to go to court to share intimate details of my life with strangers and prove I was ‘mature’ enough to make my own decision about my pregnancy,” said Jasmin Johnson, a Boston resident who had to navigate the judicial bypass process at 16 in order to move forward with her decision to have an abortion. “Even though the judge granted my ‘request’, I still battled additional emotional anxiety for just being a person of color in the court system, for transportation issues, for more time out of school, and for having to push my procedure back several days. It felt like they had my life in their hands.”
“The part of my job that I value most is being able to provide support and medical care for my patients when life gets really hard – an ultrasound that shows a serious birth defect, a sexual assault, an unplanned pregnancy. The most frustrating part of my job is when unjust laws prevent me from giving these patients the medical care they need and deserve,” said Dr. Luu Ireland, an OB/GYN practicing in central Massachusetts. “In a time when much of the country is moving backwards on reproductive health care, the ROE Act is an exciting opportunity to move forward. The people of the Commonwealth deserve nothing less.”