My Turn: Legislature must act now to secure ROE rights  

  • Carrie Baker, the president of the Abortion Rights Fund of Western Massachusetts, with signs supporting the Roe Act at her home in Northampton. FILE PHOTO

Published: 11/16/2020 3:23:02 PM

With the passing of women’s rights icon Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Senate Republicans rushing to confirm Trump’s nominee Amy Coney Barrett to fill Ginsburg’s seat, federal constitutional protection for the right to abortion health care is at imminent risk.

Mounting evidence shows Barrett is a grave threat to women’s rights, including our reproductive rights. As a law professor at Notre Dame, Barrett was a member of the University anti-abortion group Faculty for Life. In 2013, she said at a Notre Dame event that she believes life begins at conception. In a 2015 Texas Law Review article, she opposed the idea that courts should always uphold precedent, referring specifically to Roe v. Wade. She even opposes contraception access and in vitro fertilization (IVF), spurring strong rebuke from medical professionals.

If Barrett is confirmed, the Supreme Court is likely to end federal protection for abortion rights. The Massachusetts Legislature must act now to secure the right to abortion health care in the state.

In 2018, fearing the erosion of abortion rights after Trump appointed Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, the Massachusetts Legislature repealed the state’s 173-year-old abortion ban that was still on the books but unenforceable because of Roe v. Wade. But with Trump now poised to make his third appointment to Supreme Court, conservatives will consolidate a 6-3 supermajority of justices who are unanimous in their hostility to abortion rights and the Roe v. Wade precedent.

In response to these developments, Vermont, Maine, New York, California, Illinois and Nevada all passed laws protecting and expanding abortion rights in 2019. Earlier this month, New Jersey legislators introduced a bill to codify Roe v. Wade into state law, which Gov. Phil Murphy publicly supports.

But the ROE Act to protect and strengthen abortion rights in Massachusetts still sits in our Legislature after almost two years, leaving the right to abortion unprotected while leaving medically unnecessary restrictions in place that are forcing pregnant people to travel out of state for this essential health care during this pandemic. We need the ROE now, to:

■establish an affirmative right to abortion health care under state law;

■Remove inflammatory and medically inaccurate definitions of abortion and pregnancy in our laws that define the “unborn child” as existing from the moment of implantation;

■Allow abortion care after 24 weeks in cases of lethal fetal diagnoses, ensuring medical decisions remain between a patient and their doctor;

■Improve safe access for young people by ending the onerous judicial bypass system which disproportionately impacts low-income teens and teens of color;

■Remove a mandatory 24-hour waiting period for abortion care that, while currently unenforced, is subject to enforcement at any time; and

■Establish safety net coverage for people without health insurance.

Rigorous, longitudinal research proves that restricting access to abortion harms women’s health. In a new book, “The Turnaway Study: Ten Years, A Thousand Women, and the Consequences of Having — or Being Denied — an Abortion,” Dr. Diana Greene Foster provides definitive evidence that abortion access strongly enhances women’s health and well-being, whereas denying abortion causes physical and economic harm. 

Dr. Foster’s research, which followed women for 10 years after they sought abortion care, found that women who accessed the abortion care they wanted had better physical and mental health outcomes, were more financially stable, set more ambitious goals, were more likely to find a good romantic partner, were more likely to have a wanted child after the abortion and raised their children under more stable conditions.

By contrast, women denied a wanted abortion experienced more serious health problems giving birth than those who had an abortion, were likely to be left to raise the child alone, were more likely to stay in contact with a violent partner and experienced economic hardship and insecurity which lasted for years. Existing children of women denied abortions were over three times more likely to live in households below the federal poverty level than the children of women who received abortion care.

Advocates across the state have been working hard for close to two years to pass the ROE Act. With the COVID-19 pandemic, the need for the law is all the more urgent so that pregnant people don’t have to travel out of state to get abortion health care. We are losing federal-level protections for abortion health care, so we must create state-level protections.

The ROE Act is a matter of basic health care and well-being for people in Massachusetts. Please act now to urge our lawmakers to pass the ROE Act! Call or email your state representatives and sign the ROE Act petition, urging Senate President Karen Spilka, House Speaker Robert DeLeo, and Gov. Charlie Baker to pass this critical law now. Our lives, health and livelihoods depend on it!

Carrie Baker is a professor in the Program for the Study of Women and Gender at Smith College and a regular contributor to Ms. Magazine.


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