A bill is winding its way through the Massachusetts legislature which, if passed, would codify Roe v. Wade into law, making abortion legal in Massachusetts regardless of if the landmark Supreme Court decision is overturned in the coming years.
The bill, which lawmakers are calling The Roe Bill, is a controversial one: Beyond codifying Roe v. Wade, it also would also expand access to abortions after 24 weeks of pregnancy to include what lawmakers designated “fatal fetal anomalies.” It would also remove the requirement that minors notify a legal guardian or judge before having an abortion.
A fetal anomaly is a genetic or physical defect found in a fetus during pregnancy. Certain anomalies can be designated as fatal by doctors.
A public hearing for the bill took place on Monday in front of the Massachusetts Judiciary Committee where emotions flared, all while a protest was held by “hundreds of anti-abortion activists,” according to WGBH. Opponents of the bill have called it “infanticide,” while the legislation’s proponents have argued that anti-abortion advocates are using hyperbolic rhetoric and misinformation to fight the bill, according to The Boston Globe.
Massachusetts Senator Harriette Chandler, Massachusetts Representative Jay Livingstone, and Massachusetts President Pro Tempore Patricia Haddad are the bill’s lead cosponsors and presented it at Monday’s hearing alongside 28 other cosponsors.
The Globe described Democrat support of the bill as “broad,” but both the Globe and WGBH said the bill’s controversial nature has put the spotlight on moderate and conservative Democrats who could hold up the bill’s passage.
Representative Colleen Garry is one of those key Democrats—she opposes abortion rights, according to WGBH, despite her affiliation with a party that is traditionally supportive of abortion rights. Her concerns include that, though doctors can diagnose fetal anomalies, they aren’t “all knowing,” according to the Globe report—referencing that doctors can misdiagnose a fetal anomaly.
“As a woman, a Democrat, an attorney … I can tell you objectively that this legislation is extreme,” she said, according to WGBH.
An important aspect of the legislative battle is that the Massachusetts Republican Party (MassGOP) is staunchly opposed to the bill and is targeting supporters of the bill in their home districts, according to the Globe. If MassGOP is able to use the bill’s potential passage in future elections to try to topple incumbent Democrats, it could make passing the legislation more difficult.
“We are talking about a child born alive separated from his or her mother in an abortion clinic,” MassGOP Chairman James Lyons said, according to the Globe.
The Globe categorized Lyons’ words at the protest against the legislation as “erroneous” and “suggesting medical care [for mothers] would not be provided in the case of a botched abortion.”
To further illustrate his take on the ramifications of the bill, Lyons explained what he believed would happen in such a case.
Chandler pushed back against such rhetoric.
“All these audacious claims about this legislation are blatantly false,” she said, according to the Globe. “They are intentionally misrepresentative. They are incredibly offensive. Make no mistake about it, they are lies.
Given that Democrats severely outnumber Republicans in both the House and Senate, the bill will likely pass. Democratic House Speaker Robert DeLeo, however, has required that the bill must have “widespread support” before a vote can take place, according to WGBH.
Part of DeLeo’s motivation may be that Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker, a Republican, has stated in the past that—although he is supportive of previous legislation passed in Massachusetts regarding abortion—he is not in favor of legislation that increases access to abortions after the 24-week mark.
Baker could veto the bill when it gets to his desk, and DeLeo’s demand that the bill has to have widespread support before a vote could be because Democrats may need to override his veto, which would require a two-thirds vote in both chambers of the state’s congress.
But in comments made to reporters at the statehouse on Monday, Baker stated that he’s “concerned” about the expanded access, but did not join his party leaders’ rhetoric surrounding the issue, according to MassLive.
“I’m a big believer in the positions and stances that Massachusetts has taken almost always on a bipartisan basis to support women’s access to reproductive rights,” Baker said.
He went on to say he was “anxious to hear the testimony and the conversation” at Monday’s hearing, according to MassLive. Baker also expressed his apprehensions about eliminating the parental notification requirement, according to WGBH. He reiterated that he supports the state’s current level of abortion access.
“Language here matters a lot, which is why this conversation is important with respect to changing the terms and conditions associated with late term abortions in Massachusetts,” Baker said, according to WGBH.
Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey testified at Monday’s hearings in favor of the bill.
“It’s important to make clear we’ll do everything to make sure abortion is safe, legal, and accessible to all women in Massachusetts,” Healey said, according to MassLive. “We have laws on the books that do create unnecessary and sometimes insurmountable barriers to women seeking care.”
Chandler echoed that sentiment during her testimony as well.
“We must enshrine Roe in statute,” she said, according to WGBH. “A Court’s guarantee is not a guarantee in these times.”
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