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Calls For State Abortion Protections Grow Louder After Trump Announces SCOTUS Nominee03:10
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Members of a group called the Boston Red Cloaks gather outside the Edward W. Brooke courthouse in Boston, prior to a news conference in which abortion rights advocates urged state lawmakers to pass statutory protections for abortion. (Adrian Ma/WBUR)
Members of a group called the Boston Red Cloaks gather outside the Edward W. Brooke courthouse in Boston, prior to a news conference in which abortion rights advocates urged state lawmakers to pass statutory protections for abortion. (Adrian Ma/WBUR)

During a White House ceremony on Saturday in which President Trump announced Judge Amy Coney Barrett as his nominee to succeed the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the Supreme Court, Barrett promised to "apply the law as written."

"If the Senate does me the honor of confirming me, I pledge to discharge the responsibilities of this job to the very best of my ability," she said. "I love the United States, and I love the United States Constitution."

Of course, the meaning of the words in the Constitution is a matter of legal interpretation. Beginning in 1973, with the case of Roe v. Wade, the Court has held that the right to abortion is constitutionally protected. And although a direct legal challenge to Roe may not come before the court any time soon, many advocates worry that precedent is at risk, given that Barrett has previously been skeptical of broad interpretations of abortion rights.

Judge Amy Coney Barrett speaks after President Donald Trump announced Barrett as his nominee to the Supreme Court, in the Rose Garden at the White House, Sept. 26, 2020, in Washington. (Alex Brandon/AP)
Judge Amy Coney Barrett speaks after President Donald Trump announced Barrett as his nominee to the Supreme Court, in the Rose Garden at the White House, Sept. 26, 2020, in Washington. (Alex Brandon/AP)

That's why the following day, advocates for abortion rights in Massachusetts convened a news conference in front of the Edward W. Brooke Courthouse in Boston.

"Sadly, it seems we can no longer rely on the United States Supreme Court to protect us," said Jennifer Childs-Roshak, CEO of Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts.

"If Trump gets away, and rams through another anti-abortion justice to a lifetime appointment, your right to access safe and legal abortion will be left entirely to the states."

Childs-Roshak, along with Rebecca Hart Holder, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Massachusetts, urged state lawmakers to pass the so-called ROE Act.

Republicans, who are outnumbered by Democrats on Beacon Hill, have been fighting the bill, which would codify a state right to abortion within 24 weeks of the start of a pregnancy. It would also expand the circumstances in which late-term abortions are permitted and get rid of a requirement that minors seeking an abortion obtain permission from a parent or judge.

Last year, a Harvard study found that the requirement of parental or judicial consent in disproportionately affects young women who are Black or Hispanic, and who are low income.

Meanwhile, Massachusetts Sen. Ed Markey said he will do what he can to fight Barrett's confirmation.

"Judge Amy Coney Barrett represents just the kind of jurist Trump wants on the Court to dismantle our rights, including overturning the bedrock ruling of Roe vs. Wade."

If Barrett is confirmed anyway, Markey said he would back legislation to add more justices to the court — the idea being that if Joe Biden wins the presidential election, he can nominate more liberal justices when he takes office.

When WBUR asked Markey what he would say to those who believe that expanding the number of justices would essentially turn the Supreme Court — an institution that supposed to be a equal and independent branch of the federal government — into a political football, he said, "it's already happening.

"Republicans have been making a political football out of the Supreme Court for the last four years," Markey said.

It started in 2016, the senator said, when the Republican-controlled Senate refused to consider President Obama's nominee for the Supreme Court, Merrick Garland, on the grounds that it was an election year and that the next president should be allowed to fill the vacancy left by the late Justice Antonin Scalia.

"The Democrats must now play as the same rules as the Republicans," Markey said, "in order to make sure there is a court that reflects the true nature of the United States of America in 2020 and 2021."

This segment aired on September 28, 2020.

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Adrian Ma is a reporter for WBUR's Bostonomix team.

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