Massachusetts mayors join push for state ROE abortion act

Boston Mayor Martin Walsh pledges his support for the ROE Act at a rally outside the Massachusetts State House. Boston, Mass., Oct. 1, 2019. Photo by Hannah Schoenbaum/ BU News Service

By Hannah Schoenbaum
BU News Service

BOSTON — Six Massachusetts mayors demanded that the Legislature pass Sen. Harriette Chandler’s ROE Act, which would expand abortion access, at a rally outside the State House Tuesday morning.

While expanding abortion access has been a long-standing priority for Chandler, who filed the bill back in January, she said more lawmakers are now prioritizing the matter with the looming threat that the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision, which legalized abortion in 1973, could be overturned. She said the mayors who spoke at Tuesday’s rally demonstrated the urgency of this issue.

“They are the people who work with their communities every day and who care about their health and their safety,” Chandler, D-Worcester, said. “To have them step forward as they’ve done today, I think is a very significant indicator of how important this is.”

Boston Mayor Marty Walsh told a small crowd that passing the measure to remove obstacles and expand abortion access would ensure abortion remains an accessible and affordable option for women in the commonwealth.

“We shouldn’t be taking away rights from women,” Walsh said. “We shouldn’t be taking rights away from families, and that’s why we’re putting a stake in the ground here in Massachusetts. That’s why we as mayors today are going to stand shoulder to shoulder with our colleagues in the Senate and the House and demand that action happens.”

The bill would remove the parental consent requirement for pregnant girls under the age of 18. It would also permit abortions after 24 weeks in cases of fatal birth defects or strains on a patient’s physical or mental health. These late-term abortions could also take place in a clinic instead of at a hospital.

Lawrence Mayor Dan Rivera, Cambridge Mayor Marc McGovern, Newburyport Mayor Donna Holaday, Framingham Mayor Yvonne Spicer and Easthampton Mayor Nicole LaChapelle joined Walsh at the rally to support the legislation. Sixteen mayors, including those in attendance and Worcester Mayor Joseph M. Petty, co-authored a letter to members of the Legislature, urging them to prioritize the bill.

“With the U.S. Supreme Court poised to further erode or eliminate Roe v. Wade, Massachusetts must fortify its own commitment to reproductive rights and modernize its own laws so every person can decide for themselves if and when to become a parent,” the letter states. “That is why, as mayors concerned with the well-being of our residents, we support the ROE Act and declare that abortion is health care, plain and simple.”

Chandler said that as a child, she remembered seeing horror stories in the newspaper about women who got illegal abortions.

“They were going to anybody who would perform an abortion on them,” Chandler recalled. “It might’ve been your neighborhood butcher. They often left women unable to have children or sometimes dead.”

The senator said she used to think it was unnecessary for Massachusetts to pass its own law because abortion rights were protected at the federal level. As President Donald Trump began appointing conservative judges, however, she said she began to worry about the strength of the Roe v. Wade precedent.

After a thorough review of Massachusetts laws, she determined that they needed to be refined and drafted the ROE Act.

Although Chandler does not anticipate much opposition within the Legislature, some pro-life groups have criticized the act, arguing that it undermines the relationships between parents and their underage daughters and allows for life-threatening procedures to take place outside of a hospital.

Raymond Delisle, spokesperson for the Respect for Life Office of the Diocese of Worcester, said he thinks the commonwealth should be focused on strengthening families, rather than allowing minors to seek abortions without parental consent. He said he worries that teenagers will undergo these procedures without adequate support systems.

“If their guardians don’t know about it, do they have the kind of emotional support that they’re going to need?” Delisle said. “Because it’s not just a physical action that’s taking place here. This is a traumatic experience for anyone.”

Delisle also said he thinks it could be dangerous to allow abortions in clinics instead of just hospitals.

“One life is being taken, one life is going through a very serious medical procedure that shouldn’t be done outside a regulated medical setting,” he said, stressing that he does not support abortions as a member of the church.

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