Area abortion-rights supporters decry high court’s draft ruling on Roe

  • Jill Griffin holds a sign during a abortion rally held at City Hall in Northampton Tuesday, May 3, 2022. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Carrie N. Baker speaks about the robust existence of the underground abortion options available during an abortion rights rally held at the Northampton City Hall, Tuesday. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Joyce Rosenfeld raises an arm at a rally in support of abortion rights at the Northampton City Hall, Tuesday. “I am 85 years old. In 1964 I was a single mother and found myself pregnant,” she said. “By the grace of the goddess I was able to find what I needed to get care and I survived. I never want to go through that again. I never want anyone to go through that again.” STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Left, Caitlin Elsaesser stands with a close friend, Cory Mescon during a abortion rally held at the Northampton City Hall Tuesday, May 3, 2022. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Left, Caitlin Elsaesser, Emma Folkins and Cory Mescon during a abortion rally held at the Northampton City Hall Tuesday, May 3, 2022. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • People protest for women's reproductive rights in front of the Franklin County Court House on Tuesday. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ—Paul Franz...

  • People protest for women's reproductive rights in front of the Franklin County Court House on Tuesday. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ—Paul Franz...

  • People protest for women's reproductive rights in front of the Franklin County Court House on Tuesday. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ—Paul Franz...

Published: 5/3/2022 9:35:57 PM

NORTHAMPTON — Local activists and elected leaders expressed heartbreak and outrage after it was revealed that the Supreme Court is on the verge of striking down its 1973 ruling in Roe v. Wade, the case that recognized a constitutional right to abortion.

Dozens of abortion-rights supporters came out to protest Tuesday afternoon in front of Northampton City Hall, while anti-abortion advocates and proponents of states’ rights saw a reason to celebrate.

The news outlet Politico published a draft of the court’s opinion in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which centers on a Mississippi law that would ban most abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy, authored by Justice Samuel Alito.

Politico reported that the opinion appears to have the necessary votes to become the court’s formal ruling, although changes to the draft and vote-switching among justices are still possible.

The opinion, confirmed as genuine but not final by Chief Justice John Roberts, also would strike down Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey, which found it was unconstitutional for states to ban abortion before “fetal viability” but allowed for restrictions that did not place an “undue burden” on a person seeking the procedure.

“Our Nation’s historical understanding of ordered liberty does not prevent the people’s elected representatives from deciding how abortion should be regulated,” reads a portion of Alito’s 98-page draft opinion. “The Constitution does not prohibit the citizens of each State from regulating or prohibiting abortion.”

The court typically releases most of its decisions in June.

If Roe v. Wade is overturned, abortion will not be outlawed in Massachusetts.

In December 2020, lawmakers overrode Gov. Charlie Baker’s veto of the ROE Act and established an affirmative right to abortion in state law. The law eliminates the need for parental consent for 16- and 17-year-olds to get an abortion, and allows abortions after 24 weeks in the case of lethal fetal abnormalities and when the fetus is not viable.

Talk of a national ban

“It’s a dark day for America,” Carrie Baker, a Smith College professor and scholar of reproductive rights, said on Tuesday. “This has been a right established by the Supreme Court and in the Constitution for close to half of a century.”

Baker said she sees abortion as a “bellwether” issue for democracy and that Alito’s opinion would threaten the right to privacy currently enshrined in constitutional law by judicial precedent. That position was shared by President Joe Biden, who called the right to privacy “fundamental” in a Tuesday afternoon tweet.

The opinion threatens other rights undergirded by the right to privacy, Baker said, such as the right to use contraception and engage in consensual sexual activity. Anti-abortion activists have argued for decades that there is no constitutional right to privacy that applies to abortion.

“Republicans are going to try to push very hard to pass a national law banning abortion,” she said. “That’s the endgame.”

Such a ban, Baker said, would not have exceptions for rape, incest or the health of the mother.

For the political left, Carrie Baker — who is not related to the governor — said overturning Roe v. Wade would be a mobilizing moment for the November elections. She said the Senate needs to end the filibuster to pass the Women’s Health Protection Act, which would codify Roe v. Wade into federal law and has already passed the U.S. House.

She also said that Massachusetts should pass a law that protects those who provide abortion care to women who travel here from states that ban abortion.

There is an underground movement that Baker said is providing medical abortion pills to people in all 50 states. She cited the work of Plan C, a group that advocates for and helps people obtain the pills.

‘Praying’ the opinion is real

Mary Cay Andrikidis, a Florence resident and anti-abortion activist, said Tuesday that she was “weeping” with joy and “praying” that the justices overturn Roe v. Wade.

“This is the most blessed thing for our unborn babies. It’s been years that we’ve been living with this. It is the murder of babies,” Andrikidis said. “It’s such a sad, sad circumstance and I pray for any woman who would ever have to contemplate such a thing.”

Now in her 70s, Andrikidis said she has attended the March For Life, an annual anti-abortion rally in Washington, three times. She said she prays that the justices remain unharmed and they are able to issue their formal ruling in due time.

“I was a very young mother in 1973, and now I’m an older grandmother, but I’ve always thought life was sacred. When my mother and my aunts were having babies, to me, it was the most marvelous thing in the world,” she said, decrying abortion procedures as “heinous.”

Andrikidis said there are free resources for women who become pregnant and can’t care for children, and clinics like the Bethlehem House in Easthampton provide information and access to such services. Bethlehem House, opened in 2006 in the former Sacred Heart Church rectory, describes itself online as a nonprofit, faith-based pregnancy crisis center that believes “all human life is sacred from conception to natural death.”

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield declined a request for comment. The website of the diocese’s Respect Life Office urges “Catholics to advance pro-life positions within their family, church, and community, as well as within their professional organizations.”

Elected leaders promise a fight

U.S. Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Worcester, who represents much of the Pioneer Valley in Congress, did not mince words in his reaction to the leaked draft opinion.

“I’m disgusted that that would be the opinion of a majority of people on the Supreme Court,” McGovern said. “I always viewed it as settled law.”

He also expressed concern about what this would mean for other past decisions of the court.

“Do they want to overturn Brown vs. Board of Education?” McGovern said. “How far do they want to turn back the clock? … Republicans want to make government small enough to fit into your doctor’s office and your bedroom.”

U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., tweeted that the Senate should end the filibuster, “codify Roe v. Wade with a national law protecting abortion rights” and expand the number of justices on the court in order to “stop this horrifying injustice in its tracks.”

Northampton Mayor Gina-Louise Sciarra said overturning Roe v. Wade “will inflict incalculable harm on women, transgender and non-binary people who can get pregnant.”

Sciarra said she is “thankful” that the state Legislature passed the ROE Act by overriding Baker’s veto, although “none of us truly have reproductive freedom when those rights can be revoked upon crossing certain state lines. But I draw strength from the feminists who fought for decades to secure the rights we have had for so long. The fight was won before, and we will win it again.”

State Rep. Lindsay Sabadosa, D-Northampton, a longtime reproductive rights advocate, said she is “feeling a lot of rage today” and the ruling would “set up the possibility of a national abortion ban” if Republicans retake Congress and the presidency.

“That’s not a remote possibility — it could happen,” Sabadosa said.

The legal arguments in Alito’s draft opinion, she said, are “extraordinarily misguided, and we should really find that to be terrifying” because of the impact that a justice’s faulty reasoning could have on other constitutional rights.

Sabadosa took particular issue with Alito’s argument that the Due Process Clause of the 14th Amendment only applies to rights that are “deeply rooted in this nation’s history and tradition” and that abortion access does not meet that standard.

Abortion, she said, “has existed since Colonial times. It’s existed since the dawn of humanity.”

The 20th-century expansion of voting rights to women and minorities, contraception access and LGBT protections could be peeled away under the same reasoning, she said, if the court finds they are not “deeply rooted.”

“This is another assault on democracy in our country,” Easthampton Mayor Nicole LaChapelle said, describing herself as “stunned” even though reproductive rights advocates have known the ruling was possible. “It’s chilling that someone can tell me what I can and can’t do with my body,” she said, noting that there is no comparable way that a government could infringe on the rights of men.

LaChapelle said it is “an insidious curiosity that so many people would support the physical interference” with a woman’s medical decisions.

Sabadosa and LaChapelle both said that anyone who wants to fight back against the potential ruling and its fallout can get involved with the Abortion Rights Fund of Western Massachusetts, a volunteer organization that provides assistance to those seeking abortions, often from other states.

Sabadosa filed a bill that is now before the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Public Health that would require public universities in Massachusetts to provide medication abortions.

National reaction

California Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, said state lawmakers would work to enshrine the right to abortion access into the state constitution, while Republican Gov. Kristi Noem of South Dakota took the opposite view.

“If this report is true and Roe v. Wade is overturned, I will immediately call for a special session to save lives and guarantee that every unborn child has a right to life in South Dakota,” Noem tweeted.

Republican Attorney General Ken Paxton of Texas tweeted that he would “pray for the end of abortion across our nation.”

Politico reported that Monday’s leak of a draft ruling was unprecedented in the Supreme Court’s modern history. The 1973 ruling in Roe v. Wade was leaked to the press, but only a few hours before the justices themselves were set to reveal it.

Brian Steele can be reached at bsteele@gazettenet.com.

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