Several Republican-controlled states, including Alabama, have in recent days moved ahead with sweeping abortion restrictions — steps likely to face legal challenges that could prompt the U.S. Supreme Court to reconsider Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision that created a national right for women to seek an abortion.
Here's how the maneuvers could affect Massachusetts:
1. The state's high court has ruled that the Massachusetts Constitution recognizes a legal right to abortion.
This means that women in the state will still have access to the procedure even if Roe v. Wade is overturned. It also means the state covers abortion for patients with Medicaid health coverage.
The Massachusetts Citizens for Life Alliance, an anti-abortion rights advocacy group, notes on its website that the state constitution would have to be amended to change this: "Abortion statutes and regulations in Massachusetts are all predicated upon the state constitution, which unfortunately, views the right to access as a means through which public funding is guaranteed."
2. Abortion-rights activists are still worried.
Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts says the right to an abortion "shouldn't depend on your zip code or who your governor is."
The group is very concerned about the risk to Roe v. Wade from the Alabama law, which it describes as "extreme," and from other legislative moves in states like Georgia and Missouri. "There’s a reason these laws in Alabama, Georgia, and other states are so extreme — they are meant to be a direct challenge to Roe v. Wade, and to end the established national right to access abortion," Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts President Dr. Jennifer Childs-Roshak said in a statement.
3. Massachusetts law defines "unborn child" broadly.
Under current law, Planned Parenthood says Massachusetts defines an unborn child as “the individual human life in existence and developing from implantation of the embryo in the uterus until birth.” The group says it is unclear how this language could come into play if Roe is overturned, and the group worries that it could "open the door" to efforts to restrict or eliminate access to legal abortion.
4. An expansion of abortion rights is pending in the Massachusetts Legislature.
Known as the ROE Act, the bill would remove the requirement for minors to get parental consent for an abortion. It would also allow abortions later in a pregnancy when "the abortion is necessary to protect the patient’s life or physical or mental health, or in cases of lethal fetal anomalies, or where the fetus is incompatible with sustained life outside the uterus." Current law allows abortion after 24 weeks only when the health or life of the pregnant person is at risk.
The bill, which was filed in January, has not yet been scheduled for a hearing, although sponsors indicate there could be hearings in the fall. Proponents are monitoring the new laws recently passed in other states, to determine if what's happening elsewhere might have a bearing on things in Massachusetts.
Gov. Charlie Baker, a Republican, has indicated he opposes the ROE Act.
The head of the state's Republican Party, Jim Lyons, has labeled proponents of the ROE Act supporters of "infanticide."
5. This is not the first abortion issue in recent years at the State House.
Just last year, the Legislature approved — and Baker signed — what advocates called the "NASTY Women Act," which repealed several old state laws that were unenforceable under Roe v. Wade.
Bills to restrict abortion rights have also been filed in Massachusetts, but they have generally failed to gain traction in the state's Democratic-controlled Legislature.
With reporting by WBUR's Steve Brown
This article was originally published on May 16, 2019.
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