Northampton City Council backs expansion of abortion rights statewide

  • Northampton Ward 4 City Councilor Gina-Louise Sciarra. FILE PHOTO

Published: 6/7/2019 4:55:58 PM

NORTHAMPTON — As several states around the country have passed restrictive abortion laws, Massachusetts legislators have filed a bill that aims to expand access.

On Thursday night, the City Council voted to pass a resolution in support of that state legislation, “An Act to Remove Obstacles and Expand Abortion Access,” or the ROE Act, on first reading. City Council President Ryan O’Donnell and Ward 7 City Councilor Alisa Klein were not present at the meeting, and all seven other councilors voted for the resolution.

The council will vote on the resolution on second reading at its next meeting later this month.

In introducing the resolution for the first time to the council, Gina-Louise Sciarra said, “We take for granted our rights, and we think that what’s happened in other states can’t happen here,” she said referring to recent abortion restrictions in states such as Georgia and Ohio. “We also incorrectly believe that we have very robust and excellent abortion rights here.”

“It’s important to recognize,” Sciarra told the Gazette, “that we do have some fairly significant restrictions.”

The ROE Act aims to protect and strengthen abortion rights in the commonwealth. It would, for example, allow abortions later in pregnancy if necessary to protect the patient’s health, and in cases where the fetus is deemed unable to survive outside the uterus. It would also end the requirement that those under 18 get parental permission or go before a judge in order to receive an abortion — a provision that the ACLU of Massachusetts says may force young people to leave the state to obtain the medical procedure.

As Sen. Jo Comerford, D-Northampton, and a cosponsor of the legislation, explained in her recent Gazette column, the act would also repeal an unenforced 24-hour waiting period between counseling and the procedure. 

Rep. Lindsay Sabadosa, D-Northampton, and also a cosponsor of the ROE Act, said in her testimony to the council Thursday that she has long worked with the Abortion Rights Fund of Western Massachusetts and done intakes there.

“I’ve been able to hear people — in this city — call and talk about how they’ve had to make a choice between putting off a procedure and paying rent, asking how they are going to make car payments and afford a procedure,” she said. “The ROE Act is aimed at helping the most vulnerable.”

Sabadosa told the Gazette the act would extend Health Safety Net (HSN) coverage in the state to include abortion. HSN coverage in Massachusetts is available for uninsured and underinsured individuals in the commonwealth.

Klein recommended the resolution with Sciarra to the council but was not able to be present at Thursday’s meeting. During the public comment period, many people urged the councilors to support the resolution, and a few spoke out against it.

Myrna Maloney Flynn said that the ROE Act isn’t what the constituents of the councilors want.

“They don’t want their teenage daughters irresponsibly targeted,” she said.  

“Massachusetts needs ROE,” said Laura Britton, Sabadosa’s legislative aide. “What good is having legal abortion in Massachusetts if it’s inaccessible?”

Before passing the resolution without dissent, councilors discussed it.

“I feel this is the greatest crisis in abortion that we are faced with right now,” Ward 6 City Councilor Marianne LaBarge said at the meeting. “I feel we need to make sure everyone who needs care has the rights and resources to access it.”

“I think a number of us were around in 1973 when Roe v. Wade was decided,” Ward 1 City Councilor Maureen Carney said. “I was still underage, but for women who knew what it meant, it was really incredible to know that option was available for any person who got pregnant.”

“There is no other equivalent law, particularly as it relates to men, that imposes laws on how we will make our health care choices,” said At-Large City Councilor Bill Dwight. “What we’re experiencing now is a reduction of rights.”  

Sabadosa told the Gazette that Northampton is the first community in Massachusetts to pass a resolution supporting the ROE Act.

Greta Jochem can be reached at gjochem@gazettenet.com. Bera Dunau can be reached at bdunau@gazettenet.com.




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