Abortion access scholar says Mass. should brace for out-of-state legal battles with Roe overturned

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Now that the Supreme Court has overturned Roe v. Wade, Massachusetts abortion rights advocates and activists are preparing for possible legal battles stemming from abortions provided here to out-of-state residents.

On Friday, Gov. Charlie Baker signed an executive order designed to protect abortion providers in the state who help out-of-state patients.

Shoshanna Ehrlich was once an attorney working on issues related to minors' access to abortion. For many years, she's been teaching and writing about abortion access as a professor of women's, gender and sexuality studies at UMass Boston.

Ehrlich told WBUR's All Things Considered that although Massachusetts has strong laws protecting abortion access, she hopes the state will take even further steps because of the uncertainties brought about by the dramatic changes to the abortion landscape across the country.

This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.

Interview Highlights

How strong are Massachusetts laws surrounding abortion access?

"The laws in Massachusetts are very strong. The ROE Act, [and there have] been court decisions that also locate the right to abortion in our own state constitution. So if you're a Massachusetts resident or someone coming to Massachusetts from a state where abortion [is legal] — like New York or Connecticut ... you have an abortion, you're fine. The question is, what happens if someone seeks to travel to Massachusetts from a state where abortion is banned?

"None of the [other states' current] laws are criminalizing the person who has the abortion [under a doctor's care]. It would be providers, those who aid or abet, like [under] the Texas law. And the big question on the table is whether states can apply their laws extraterritorially. So, whether Missouri can prosecute a provider in Massachusetts who performs an abortion for one of its own residents. And people are really debating this. And there's a split among legal experts. And states like Massachusetts, Connecticut, California and New York are really trying to get out in front of this and hold themselves out as making abortion available for both residents and non-residents. But I don't think anyone can be positive of how a dispute would play out."

How important is it, in your view, that Massachusetts passes a law like the Senate's budget amendment protecting providers in this state from out-of-state legal actions over abortion?

"I think there is a need. I think it's 100%. I applaud the lawmakers [and] the Beyond Roe Coalition [for backing it]. I think Massachusetts is in the process of really putting us out as a state, saying this is wrong, it's against the public policy of our state to deny abortion care. ... No one, I don't think, can guarantee 100% certainty as to whether these protections will fully stick. There's not been a lot of litigation around this issue. So all of the anti-abortion law firms, etc., are going to be seeking to challenge these kind of 'sanctuary state' protections. So there's looming legal battles to be had."

How fortified is Massachusetts to fight those battles when compared with states like Connecticut or New York?

"I think we're moving in a very strong direction. ... In terms of what the Beyond Roe Coalition and lawmakers are advancing, I think Massachusetts has a lot to be proud of."

What else might Massachusetts do to become a safe haven of sorts for people from other states seeking abortion care here?

"I think that one of the things beyond the law itself, although it would come through the law, is setting up funding ... to make sure that there is backup for those who are seeking to come to Massachusetts, and to make it clear that there's availability, there's support. There is going to be funding, for the first time in this budget amendment, going to three state abortion funds. I believe other states are working on setting up more sort of permanent structures. And so, I think to really take a bold stance, and to put money where our mouth is, about saying it is the public policy of our state that abortion is funded and protected whether you are a Massachusetts resident or coming from out of state."

This segment aired on June 24, 2022.


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Lynn Jolicoeur Producer/Reporter
Lynn Jolicoeur is the field producer for WBUR's All Things Considered. She also reports for the station's various local news broadcasts.


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Lisa Mullins Host, All Things Considered
Lisa Mullins is the voice of WBUR’s All Things Considered. She anchors the program, conducts interviews and reports from the field.



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