Editorial: Support human rights, support the ROE Act

  • Demonstrators listen to a speaker while holding signs during a rally against abortion bans Tuesday, May 21, 2019 at Pulaski Park in Northampton. FILE PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • People applaud during a rally against abortion bans Tuesday, May 21, 2019 at Pulaski Park in Northampton. FILE PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • A trio holding signs during a rally against abortion bans Tuesday, May 21, 2019 at Pulaski Park in Northampton. FILE PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

Published: 6/19/2019 4:19:00 PM

Last week, Northampton made national news when a Smith College professor and abortion-rights advocate wrote an article for Ms. magazine about two city councilors who are working with activists to pass a resolution in support of the ROE Act (S.1209/H.3320), which would protect and strengthen access to safe and legal abortion in Massachusetts.

That professor is Carrie N. Baker, who is also the co-president of the Abortion Rights Fund of Western Massachusetts, which provides financial assistance to people in the region seeking abortions. And those two city councilors are Alisa F. Klein and Gina-Louise Sciarra, who recommended the resolution earlier this month.

In introducing the resolution to the City Council for the first time, Sciarra pointed to recent abortion restrictions in states across the country. “We take for granted our rights, and we think that what’s happened in other states can’t happen here,” she said, later telling the Gazette that, even in Massachusetts, “it’s important to recognize that we do have some fairly significant restrictions.”

It’s critical to recognize them — and to address them head-on, especially now. Since 2011, nearly 500 abortion restrictions have been enacted in 33 states, amounting to a third of the restrictions put into effect since the 1973 Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade, according to the Guttmacher Institute. In some states, like Louisiana and Mississippi, unless the patient’s life is endangered, abortions are banned after six weeks — that is, before many women even know they are pregnant. In Alabama, abortion is banned outright, unless the patient’s health is at dire risk. In several states with extreme bans, there are no exceptions for rape or incest.

This is a national nightmare. But at a time when women’s rights and physical bodies are under attack across the U.S., we are proud to see our city taking the lead in supporting reproductive rights and abortion access. We are also grateful for the work of our local legislators, including Sens. Jo Comerford, Adam Hinds and Eric Lesser and Reps. Daniel Carey, Mindy Domb and Lindsay Sabadosa, co-sponsors of the bill who are fighting to ensure its swift passage at the Statehouse.

If enacted, the ROE Act would expand abortion access after 24 weeks of pregnancy in cases of fatal fetal anomalies or when necessary to protect the patient’s health. It also would eliminate the requirement that minors get parental consent or go before a judge to access an abortion; strengthen coverage for abortion care, regardless of a person’s income or legal status; and remove outdated language from and codify reproductive rights into state law.

ROE supporters and opponents swarmed the Statehouse Monday, before a public hearing on the bill. Extreme anti-abortion activists have shown that they value the “personhood” of a fetus over the life of the actual person carrying it. Less extreme critics of the ROE Act have argued that the bill is too broad and, in cases where a minor seeks an abortion, would remove parents/guardians from an important decision in their child’s life that they should be involved in. But fewer than 2 percent of the 18,256 abortions performed last year in Massachusetts were for minors, and most had parental consent, according to State House News Service. Furthermore, denied access, young people could be forced to travel out of state and/or delay the medical procedure. A new study published in the journal “Obstetrics & Gynecology” found that “Massachusetts’ parental consent law for abortion is associated with delay among minors and thereby may constrain the clinical options available to them.”

Instead of punishing young people who seek abortions, we should help them to access the care that could change the course of their lives for the better. Instead of instilling fear and shame, we should encourage dialogue around these issues, between supporters and opponents, between women and men, between parents and children.

In the past few weeks, the debate about abortion has played out on our pages, with columns and letters to the editor, including one from area middle school and high school students who wrote after Alabama passed the so-called Human Life Protection Act. “Abortion should be an individual choice,” they wrote. “If an abortion conflicts with someone’s morals or beliefs, they may decide not to have one, but to take this right away from others is immensely unfair.”

We agree. The next City Council hearing takes place Thursday at 7 p.m. at the City Council chambers at 212 Main St. We urge residents to show up and speak during the public comment period.

We also encourage readers to bolster support for abortion access in other ways, such as donating to the Abortion Rights Fund of Western Massachusetts and making an effort to normalize the conversation around abortion, which is a shared experience for so many women.

The actress and talk-show host Busy Philipps last month referenced the fact that one in four American women will have an abortion by the age of 45. “That statistic sometimes surprises people, and maybe you’re sitting there thinking, ‘I don’t know a woman who would have an abortion,’” she said on TV. “Well, you know me. I had an abortion when I was 15 years old.” Soon after, she started a Twitter hashtag #YouKnowMe, galvanizing thousands of women to share their stories online.

Not everyone wants to talk about that experience, and that’s more than understandable. But we must work to end the silence and remove the stigma around abortion, and we must improve access and strengthen the protections already in place.

Let’s look to our neighbor, Vermont, where Democrats recently approved a bill that would prohibit the government from interfering at all with the right to have an abortion.

“Supporters say that the bill sends a resonant message to the nation about Vermont’s views on abortion rights just as other states are sending far different signals,” reported The New York Times.

It’s time for Massachusetts to send its own signal — not just a flare for help, but a lasting legacy.

It’s time to pass the ROE Act.




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