Everything You Need to Know About The ROE Act

While Massachusetts may be considered one of the most progressive states, state legislators are nonetheless fighting to further expand women’s access to abortion with the proposed ROE Act. According to the bill’s sponsors, removing the few obstacles to abortion that remain in place in Massachusetts is particularly important right now.

Photo Credit: Worchester Telegram

“As other states launch campaigns to abolish Roe’s protections, Massachusetts has the opportunity to protect young women, to protect women who have medical crises late in pregnancy, to protect the Roe v. Wade decision, and to ensure body autonomy for women across the state,” said Sen. Harriette Chandler, sponsor of the Senate version of the bill, in a statement.

Lobbyists on the opposite side of the issue, however, argue that legislators shouldn’t compare Massachusetts’ abortion code to conservative states’ abortion bans. David Franks, chairman of the board for Massachusetts Citizens for Life, a non-profit anti-abortion organization, emphasized this point in an interview.

“The national conversation affects how it gets discussed here,” he said. “[Other states’ abortion bans] made it more difficult for us in this state to try to defend the more moderate regulations of abortion.”

The bill has been heard by the Joint Committee on the Judiciary and is still sitting in committee. The chairs have until February to act on the bill and bring it to a vote in the Massachusetts Legislature.

The ROE Act aims to make three main changes to existing state law, according to Rep. Patricia Haddad, sponsor of the House bill:

1.) The first is to codify Roe “with better and more scientifically accurate language,” Haddad said in a phone interview. After examining a 1974 post-Roe law, she discovered that a group of anti-abortion advocates––Massachusetts Citizens for Life––had drafted the abortion statute, frequently referring to an “unborn child” in the text.

This part of the ROE Act raises debate over terminology and political framing. While Haddad said the current language is medically inaccurate, Franks said that refusing to use the term “unborn child” is “not honest.”

2.) The second major part of the bill, and the easiest for people to understand and accept, according to Haddad, would allow women to get abortions after 24 weeks of pregnancy in cases where the fetus is unable to survive. The current law prohibits abortions under any circumstances after 24 weeks.

“Women have to leave the state if they get that diagnosis to get what we’re calling a compassionate procedure because otherwise, they have to go through labor and delivery,” she said. “You’re asking somebody to deliver either a dead fetus or a fetus that may take a few breaths but it’s not going to live. We’re trying to create that very small exception.”

3.) The third element of the current law that Haddad is trying to reform faces the most criticism––eliminating the parental consent rule. Massachusetts currently requires people under the age of 18 to obtain parental consent before receiving an abortion.

The majority of teenagers seeking an abortion willingly involve their families, according to Haddad. However, some may come from a home of abuse, not live with a parent, or fear that they will be kicked out of their house if they involve their parents. In these cases, the minor must go through a judicial bypass process and explain to a judge why they cannot obtain parental consent. Yet, that process takes time and jeopardizes a girl’s privacy.

“The problem is that [the judicial bypass] takes two to three weeks, and when we’re talking about young people, a chemical abortion is safer and less traumatic than a procedure,” Haddad pointed out.

Photo Credit: Gregory L. Tracy

Haddad said that while she cannot predict whether the bill will pass, she’s hopeful that Massachusetts lawmakers will eventually adopt policies expanding access to abortions.

“We should accept what we can get…We do a lot of big policy things in increments,” she said. “We may have to spend a little more time educating people.”

Franks said that if the bill does pass, Massachusetts Citizens for Life will continue with its mission to educate the public and lobby against legislation that may increase the number of abortions in the state.

Even if the Legislature passes the ROE Act, Gov. Charlie Baker has not taken a public position on the bill.

“I think it’s important enough that we need to keep going, especially because we don’t know what’s going to happen with the Supreme Court,” said Haddad. “I really believe that it’s necessary that we pass it.”


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