The Supreme Court could soon limit abortion access. Lawmakers in Massachusetts are already working on a response

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Protesters march during the Defend Abortion Rights rally in the area of the Massachusetts State House. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
Protesters march during the Defend Abortion Rights rally in the area of the Massachusetts State House. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Lawmakers are working on a raft of proposals to preserve and even expand access to abortion in Massachusetts, anticipating that the Supreme Court could soon limit people's right to the procedure.

A draft opinion leaked in early May suggests the court could be on the verge of overturning Roe v. Wade — the landmark 1973 ruling that found Americans have a constitutional right to abortion — and give states more power to restrict abortion.

Even if the court strikes down Roe, abortion is expected to remain legal in Massachusetts and the rest of New England. After the leak in May, top elected officials in Massachusetts vowed to ensure abortion remains legal in the state. But many state lawmakers say they also need to shield residents from laws in other states that ban abortion.

"We are now faced with a situation where another state, through state laws enacted by their legislature, is threatening the rights of law-abiding residents in our commonwealth," said state Sen. Cindy Friedman (D-Arlington).

She noted both Texas and Oklahoma recently passed restrictions on abortions that allow anyone to sue abortion providers and others who help someone obtain an abortion after roughly six weeks of pregnancy.

Friedman joins those who worry the laws could be used to sue people in Massachusetts for helping out-of-state residents obtain an abortion here or in another state where the procedure is legal.

The Senate approved Friedman's amendment to the state budget that would create those protections, but the proposal was not in the House version of the budget and it is unclear whether it will survive budget negotiations between the two chambers.

House Speaker Ron Mariano (D-Quincy) said he wants to wait to see the final Supreme Court ruling before passing additional legislation on abortion.

"I would rather, if we were going to attack a problem, see what the court is going to decide with the limits and then make decisions based around that with one big package that addresses a lot of the issues," Mariano told reporters earlier this month.

The Supreme Court is widely expected to issue its ruling later this month or in early July. Mariano thinks that would leave lawmakers with enough time to pass legislation before the session ends on July 31.

Several lawmakers have already floated ideas they'd like to see included. That includes state Rep. Lindsay Sabadosa (D-Northampton), who wants Massachusetts to require health centers at public colleges and universities to provide abortion pills. Medication, which can be taken at home, now accounts for the majority of procedures in the United States.

Sabadosa also wants community colleges without health centers to give students and staff a list of places that perform abortions, so students aren't forced to travel across the state or make countless phone calls to find a hospital that offers the service.

Additionally, she thinks the state should ensure abortion and other reproductive services are fully covered by insurance and not subject to co-pays and high deductibles

"It does seem really unfair that someone is paying for insurance, but this is not covered," Sabadosa said. "Because this is not a procedure that you can put off, you can't wait an extra few weeks. The costs do continue to go up and sometimes people have to travel out of state if they wait too long."

But some abortion opponents want to seize the moment to push Massachusetts to stop using public tax dollars to fund abortions.

"If I have a moral and a deep-seated religious belief against abortion, I don't want to see my money being spent in that way," said state Rep. Joseph McKenna (R-Webster).

But McKenna says he's not necessarily opposed to giving Massachusetts residents immunity from lawsuits because of abortion laws in other states.

"I think that, you know, what happens in Massachusetts should be subject to Massachusetts laws and what happens in Texas, say, should be subject to Texas laws," McKenna said. "So, you know, I'm not fundamentally opposed to that, although it in some ways is opposed to my personal objection to abortion."

Abortion rights advocates also want the state to do more to expand access to the procedure.

"Even though abortion care will remain legal here in Massachusetts — no matter what happens at the high court — barriers to care still exist," said Rebecca Hart Holder, executive director of Reproductive Equity Now.

Hart Holder's group has a list of 21 initiatives it wants to see become law, including expanding sexual education and giving young people broader access to abortion.

She hopes lawmakers pass at least some of the 21 proposals before they wrap up their formal business in July.

Yet no matter what, Hart Holder vowed to be back on Beacon Hill next year, pushing lawmakers to pass the rest.

This segment aired on June 21, 2022.


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Steve Brown Senior Reporter/Anchor
Steve Brown is a veteran broadcast journalist who serves as WBUR's senior State House reporter.



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