House gives legal shield to abortion seekers, providers | Boston
BOSTON — The House on Wednesday approved a proposal for shielding abortion seekers and providers from criminal charges, as Massachusetts braces for an influx of women from other states that restrict the procedure in the wake of last week’s Supreme Court ruling overturning the Roe V. Wade decision.
The Democratic-backed proposalwhich passed by a vote of 136 to 17 mostly along party lines, declares that abortion is a “right secured by the constitution or laws” and would shield providers of reproductive and “gender-affirming” care and their patients from potential out-of -state legal action.
The measure also would require abortions to be covered by the state’s Medicaid program MassHealth and private insurance with no co-pays or deductibles and authorizes pharmacies to dispense FDA-approved emergency contraception.
Democrats who proposed the changes said that while abortion is protected in Massachusetts, the high court’s ruling means women from other states will be coming here to have the procedure done — and will need resources and legal protections.
They said abortion providers also need to be protected from prosecution in states where citizens can file lawsuits against those performing the procedure.
“Today, we tell other states who would deny women full equality to stay out of Massachusetts,” Rep. Michael Day, D-Stoneham, said in remarks ahead of the bill’s approval. “While your women, seeking to exercise their fundamental rights and make their own healthcare decisions, will be welcome here — you will not.”
Rep. Ann Margaret Ferrante, D-Gloucester, said women‘s reproductive rights are under attack following the Supreme Court’s decision. She said the proposal would make Massachusetts a “beacon of light” by strengthening abortion protections.
“Even if other states in this country choose not to, we will remain a beacon for the rights and the humanity of women,” Ferrante said in remarks.
The legislation would effectively make Massachusetts a “sanctuary” state for abortions, by prohibiting state and local police from providing information or assistance to federal agencies, law enforcement in other states or citizens seeking to take action against someone for getting an abortion.
House Republicans sought unsuccessfully to strike several provisions of the proposal, including one that would allow abortions after 24 weeks for pregnant women diagnosed with “severe” fetal anomalies. Current state law allows abortions after 24 weeks only for a “fatal” fetal anomaly.
Rep. Colleen Garry, a Dracut Democrat who often votes with GOP lawmakers, pushed unsuccessfully to amend the bill to allow pharmacists with “religious objections” to abortion to refuse to dispense emergency contraception.
Garry, who said she opposes abortion, criticized fellow Democrats for the provision of the bill that would prohibit co-payments or deductibles for abortion services, suggesting that the move would drive up insurance costs.
“Because everyone and their sister will now be coming to have Massachusetts to have a free abortion, on us,” Garry said in remarks. “I have a problem with that, and I think insurance rate payers are going to have a problem with that as well.”
Despite the Supreme Court ruling, the right to an abortion is still protected in Massachusetts under a state law that went into effect two years ago.
The ROE Act codifies the right to an abortion and prohibits the state from interfering with a “person’s personal decision” to get the procedure. It also allows the procedure after 24 weeks when deemed necessary by a doctor, and lowered the age of consent from a parent or judge from 18 to 16.
Prior to its passage, abortion in Massachusetts was protected by the landmark Roe v. Wade ruling, as well as a decision by the state Supreme Judicial Court.
On Friday, the US Supreme Court’s conservative majority ruled that the Constitution doesn’t guarantee the right to an abortion, pushing the issue to states.
At least 13 states have abortion bans or so-called “trigger laws” that automatically ban abortions now that Roe v. Wade is overturned, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a woman’s health advocacy group.
At least four states — Georgia, Iowa, Ohio and South Carolina — outlaw the procedure after six weeks of pregnancy. Several other states are expected to pass restrictive laws on abortion access now that federal protections have been overturned, the institute says.
Gov. Charlie Baker Baker, a Republican who supports abortion rights, signed an executive order Friday prohibiting executive branch departments from cooperating with other states that decide to investigate women coming to Massachusetts to get the procedure.
The order also shields abortion clinic workers from losing their licenses over potential legal actions filed by states.
Baker said on Monday the order will “keep providers here in Massachusetts safe and would provide relief to people from other states who came here seeking those services safe as well.”
Lawmakers have also included additional funding in a nearly $50 billion budget for the next fiscal year to provide enhanced security and infrastructure upgrades at abortion clinics across the state. That proposal is subject to a final budget package, which is currently tied up in negotiations.
The legislation approved by the House on Wednesday now moves to the Senate, which has included similar protections in its version of the state budget.
Senate President Karen Spilka, D-Ashland, issued a statement last week saying she expects to pass a final bill before the July 31 end of session.
Christian M. Wade covers the Massachusetts Statehouse for North of Boston Media Group’s newspapers and websites. Email him at [email protected].
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