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Abortion activists mobilize in Mass. after Supreme Court leak04:14
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Thousands of protesters march down Tremont Street during a pro-abortion rights rally near the Massachusetts State House Tuesday. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
Thousands of protesters march down Tremont Street during a pro-abortion rights rally near the Massachusetts State House Tuesday. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Carrie Baker opens the homepage for Plan C, a website that helps people across the U.S. get medication to terminate a first trimester pregnancy. The site’s welcome message: “A safe, at-home abortion is here.”

After years of work to keep clinics that offer abortions open and accessible, Baker has shifted focus to these meds that can be taken anywhere. She helps vet information on the site, which directs people concerned about the legal risks of ordering pills to call a helpline. Baker says getting the word out about these commonly used pills and where to find them is important as more states prepare to ban all forms of abortion.

A 2020 image courtesy of Plan C shows a combination pack of mifepristone (L) and misoprostol tablets, two medicines used together and often called the abortion pill. (Elisa Wells / Plan C / AFP via Getty Images)
A 2020 image courtesy of Plan C shows a combination pack of mifepristone (L) and misoprostol tablets, two medicines used together and often called the abortion pill. (Elisa Wells / Plan C / AFP via Getty Images)

“It’s what makes me think that post-Roe will not be like pre-Roe,” says Baker, a professor of women and gender studies at Smith College. “Abortion pills are a technology that means people will have much safer and private ways of self-managing abortions post-Roe.”

The post-Roe era looms large for Baker and others this week after a draft opinion was leaked from the Supreme Court that says Roe v. Wade must be overturned. Protesters across the nation hit the streets. And here in Massachusetts, elected leaders emphasized abortion will remain legal in the state, regardless of what the high court does.

At least 13 states — all outside New England — have so-called “trigger laws” that would immediately make abortion illegal if Roe is reversed. With that in mind, longtime Massachusetts advocates on both sides of the debate are strategizing about where to direct their efforts inside and outside the state.

Money moves

In the hours after the Supreme Court leak, eager donors crashed a website that collects donations for abortion funding assistance. Margaret Batten with the Eastern Massachusetts Abortion Fund says she’s seeing the same surge in contributions locally. But Batten and the leaders of other similar funds are urging the state to boost its financial assistance for abortions as well.

The House version of next year’s budget includes $500,000 in state grants for these grassroots funds and other abortion services. A spokesperson for Massachusetts Senate President Karen Spilka says the Senate will boost that to $2 million.

Some abortion opponents are incensed that tax dollars may be used to make abortions more available for anyone who seeks one.

“We’re going to fight back against abortion for people from other states,” says Andrew Beckwith, president of the Massachusetts Family Institute. “Making Massachusetts a hub for abortion, I mean, that’s just horrible.”

Beckwith says an expected victory from the Supreme Court will energize his backers.

“It prompts us to work harder because now it means we have one less layer of bad law that we have to push through,” he says.

He mentions the fight for crisis pregnancy centers, which some cities in Massachusetts are moving to limit or ban. Some clients have said they felt duped by these centers, which offer counseling and adoption assistance but not abortions.

Abortion advocates clamor to boost access

Abortion rights advocates are pressing state lawmakers on new ways to make getting an abortion easier in Massachusetts.

They want the state to require clinics at the UMass campuses and state colleges to provide abortion pills. And they’re considering a bill, similar to one passed in Connecticut, that would provide liability protection for Massachusetts providers who perform abortions on residents from restrictive states.

Abortion rights advocates protest and march outside the State House Tuesday. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
Abortion rights advocates protest and march outside the State House Tuesday. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

“The strategy now is to increase access,” says Rebecca Hart Holder, executive director of Reproductive Equity Now. “There is not a state in the country where access can’t be increased, including in Massachusetts.”

Clinics that offer abortions in the commonwealth have seen a small number of patients from Texas since that state banned abortions occurring after six weeks of pregnancy. That’s not expected to change much if more states limit or ban abortion, according to a prediction from one abortion rights research group. But Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts CEO Dr. Jennifer Childs-Roshak says its four centers will be ready if there’s a significant increase.

From our own staffing, from our facilities, we have enough room,” Childs-Roshak says. “And we would do whatever we needed to do to expand capacity for patients. I feel very confident about that.”

Ramping up protests

An “emergency” march and rally at the State House, less than a day after Politico posted the court’s draft opinion, will be the first of many, organizers say. Jessie Steigerwald, with Boston Red Cloaks, says members in their signature handmaid outfits will be at the State House this weekend and are scrambling to plan other appearances.

“Not being out there would send absolutely the wrong signal,” she says. “People are appalled to see 50 years of relying on the Constitution and our rights, erased.”

Members of the Boston Red Cloaks protest outside the Massachusetts State House last September in response to the passing of the nation’s most restrictive abortion law in Texas. (Courtesy Jessie Steigerwald and the Boston Red Cloaks)
Members of the Boston Red Cloaks protest outside the Massachusetts State House last September in response to the passing of the nation’s most restrictive abortion law in Texas. (Courtesy Jessie Steigerwald and the Boston Red Cloaks)

Steigerwald says the outfits catch people’s attention and start conversations. She tries to steer the discussion toward the need to elect candidates that support abortion rights.

“The midterm elections are the No. 1 important goal, making sure that people get out and vote,” Steigerwald says. “They have to know that they have power.”

Tilting the 2022 congressional elections is a shared goal for many abortion rights supporters and opponents as they mobilize for the final Supreme Court ruling, due before the end of June.

This article was originally published on May 05, 2022.

This segment aired on May 5, 2022.

Martha Bebinger Twitter Reporter
Martha Bebinger covers health care and other general assignments for WBUR.

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