Guest column Lynn M. Morgan: Standing squarely for reproductive justice

  • Mass. state Sen. Harriette Chandler, D-Worcester, seated center, testifies in favor of a proposed bill, called the "Roe Act" by supporters, as Mass. state Rep. Patricia Haddad, D-Bristol, seated left, and Mass. state Rep. Jay D. Livingstone, D-Boston, right, look on during a public hearing at the Statehouse, Monday, June 17, in Boston. AP photo

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Because I’m a lifelong reproductive rights supporter, I’ve always been proud to live in Massachusetts, under a state constitution that guarantees the right to abortion.

Our state was a leader in providing universal health insurance, and the 2017 ACCESS bill ensured that all health insurance plans will cover most forms of birth control without a copayment.

Although I love what is happening in Massachusetts, this is no time to rest on our laurels. The Northampton City Council recently passed a resolution affirming support for access to safe and legal abortion in the commonwealth and across the United States. A similar resolution will soon be introduced in Amherst. Why? Because with new abortion restrictions recently enacted in Alabama, Georgia, Ohio, Louisiana and elsewhere, legal abortion is now at greater risk than it has been in many decades.

Even here in Massachusetts, abortion laws are a lot shakier than I realized. I didn’t know, for example, that someone who needs to terminate a pregnancy for serious medical reasons — such as a diagnosis of a fatal fetal anomaly after 24 weeks — is unable to do so in Massachusetts. We have world-class medical facilities in our state, but people in these circumstances are forced to travel to other states to get care.

Nor did I realize that Massachusetts minors (unlike those in Connecticut, Maine, New York or Vermont) must have parental permission to get an abortion. If not, they must find the courage to approach a judge for permission, which leads to delays in getting care. This law implies that such teens are mature enough to have a baby, but not to decide their own futures.

Massachusetts also has a mandatory 24-hour waiting period on the books, although that law isn’t currently enforced. These burdensome laws create extra expenses and stress, especially for youth, people of color and low-income people.

To make things worse, Massachusetts law defines abortion as “the knowing destruction of the life of an unborn child.” Such language is inflammatory, polarizing and medically inaccurate.

We can do better. The ROE Act, an act to remove obstacles and expand abortion access, is now pending before the Massachusetts Legislature. The goal of the ROE Act is to make sure that everyone in Massachusetts — no matter their age, income or insurance — will always be able to get access to safe, legal abortion.

The bill would put the right to abortion in state law, to protect us in the event that the Supreme Court enacts further restrictions. The ROE Act would remove the laws requiring mandatory parental consent and a waiting period. It would allow for abortions after 24 weeks in cases of fatal fetal anomalies, and it would revise medically inaccurate definitions of abortion and pregnancy.

In Massachusetts we should protect the health, safety, and privacy of young people and work for reproductive justice, no matter what happens in Washington.

“But why,” I am asked, “should cities and towns take a stand on abortion, when laws are made at the state level?” There are several reasons to act.

First, local resolutions express our strong support for the elected officials who represent us at the State House. The policies they enact affect our lives, health and economic security. Our backing helps our elected representatives and urges them to act.

Second, by naming the need for abortion access we are doing our part to reduce abortion stigma. No matter how you feel about it, one in four U.S. women will have an abortion by age 45. Abortion is health care.

Finally, local resolutions create an opportunity for us to talk with our neighbors about abortion. Now I know that the reality of our state abortion protections is not as strong as I had assumed. But we can do something about that. This is what democracy looks like.

Let’s be sure that Amherst stands squarely for reproductive justice, and hope that other cities and towns soon follow suit.

Lynn M. Morgan is professor of anthropology at Mount Holyoke College and author of the book, “Icons of Life: A Cultural History of Human Embryos.”