Advocates Call For "Preventative Steps" To Protect, Expand Abortion Access

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BOSTON (State House News Service— Allowing people younger than 16 to receive abortion care without a parent or judge's consent, regulating so-called crisis pregnancy centers and permitting later-term abortions in more settings are coming into focus as the next fronts for debate about reproductive rights in Massachusetts.

Bay State lawmakers have enacted legislation to expand access to abortion services in each of the last two terms, and reproductive care advocates have now set their sights on a new batch of reforms they say are needed to boost access to the services.

"The historic ROE Act [in 2020] proactively codified abortion and removed harmful trap laws from our books, preparing us for what was then a hypothetical that Roe v. Wade would be overturned. Now, with the future of abortion access uncertain and under constant national threat, we must take preventative steps to safeguard abortion access now and for future generations," Dominique Lee, president of the Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts, told lawmakers.

PPLM and the Reproductive Equity Now coalition voiced their support for legislation (H 1599 / S 1114) before the Judiciary Committee that authors Rep. Sally Kerans and Sen. Becca Rausch say would reduce barriers to abortions and other reproductive health services.

One of the most significant changes in the bills is a proposal to allow someone younger than 16 years old to receive an abortion without first acquiring parental consent or navigating a court process.

In 2020, the Democrat-controlled House and Senate overrode Republican Gov. Charlie Baker's veto and muscled through a law lifting those requirements for 16- and 17-year-olds.

"However, it left a barrier intact for youth younger than 16, even though minors of any age are able to consent to all other pregnancy-related care, child birth and contraceptives," Sheila Ramirez, the director of health policy and government relations at the Planned Parenthood Advocacy Fund of Massachusetts, said of the 2020 law.

Baker, who two years later signed into law another abortion access measure, cited the changes affecting minors aged 16 and 17 as one of his primary concerns with the bill he vetoed.

While legislative leaders have made reproductive health an area of priority in recent terms, they have not signaled any concrete plans for additional reforms in the 2023-2024 session.

Anti-abortion groups lined up in opposition to the Kerans and Rausch bill at Tuesday's hearing, arguing that scrapping the need for parental consent would improperly leave parents uninvolved in major health care decisions involving their children.

"One might have thought that when our Legislature passed the ROE infanticide act in 2020, things could not get more extreme on the issue of abortion here in Massachusetts. But the sponsors of these bills are trying to prove that notion wrong," said Michael King, director of community alliances at the Massachusetts Family Institute, a Christian group that has long opposed expanding abortion access.

The proposal from Rausch and Kerans would also regulate facilities often known as crisis pregnancy centers. Rausch called them "anti-choice centers" and said they "outnumber legitimate reproductive health clinics in Massachusetts by nearly triple."

"These centers are generally unlicensed, but nonetheless provide medical services like ultrasounds without the supervision of licensed clinicians, creating serious health hazards for women," the Needham Democrat said.

The bill would require the state Department of Public Health to publish a list of reproductive health care provider facilities and launch a public education campaign about crisis pregnancy centers, according to a bill summary from the Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts.

Rausch said the legislation would also allow patients and providers to choose the clinical setting for abortion procedures, a change from existing law that requires later-term abortions to be performed in hospitals, and "prohibit anyone from being required to view ultrasounds in order to access care."

"These are really critical provisions that do work to unpack the abortion exceptionalism that has resulted in abortion care being treated entirely differently from every other type of medical care in our health care system," said Claire Teylouni, director of government affairs for the Reproductive Equity Now coalition.

Written by Chris Lisinski/SHNS

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