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Regional News

Here's how overturning Roe v. Wade could affect Mass. and the rest of New England

Protesters hand out literature outside a Boston Planned Parenthood. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
Protesters hand out literature outside a Boston Planned Parenthood. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Abortion is likely to remain legal in Massachusetts and the rest of the New England for the foreseeable future, no matter how the Supreme Court rules.

Politico published a majority draft Supreme Court decision to strike down the landmark 1973 case Roe v. Wade, eliminating the constitutional right to abortion. The draft says: “Roe was egregiously wrong from the start.”

If the Supreme Court finalizes the ruling, it would leave abortion rights up to Congress and the states.

Though some Republicans want Congress to enact a national ban on abortion, they do not appear anywhere close to gaining the votes to do so. Democrats currently control both the presidency and narrow majorities in both chambers of Congress.

But locally, there are many protections for abortion rights already in place.

Abortion laws in Massachusetts

Abortion is legal in Massachusetts through 24 weeks of pregnancy under state law. After 24 weeks, abortion may be performed in cases of a fatal fetal anomaly or to preserve the physical or mental health of the pregnant person. Patients under 16 must obtain either parental consent or approval from a judge.

A recent study by the Guttmacher Institute, a research organization that supports abortion rights, counted 47 facilities in Massachusetts providing abortions in 2017, up from 43 in 2014. The study estimated 13% of Massachusetts women live in counties without providers.

How overturning Roe would change abortion access in Massachusetts

Analysts expect abortion to remain largely legal and widely available in Massachusetts.

The Massachusetts Legislature enshrined abortion rights in state law and expanded access to 16 and 17-year-olds through the ROE Act in 2020. Republican Gov. Charlie Baker originally vetoed the bill, but both chambers of the Legislature quickly overturned it.

On Tuesday, Baker reiterated his support for abortion rights.

“I am proud that MA has and will always protect every woman’s right to choose what is best for them,” he wrote on Twitter. Democrats, who generally favor abortion rights, also control super majorities in both chambers of the state Legislature.

Abortion access in other New England states

Abortion is generally legal and available in other New England states and there is no indication that will change anytime soon. But the details vary.

New Hampshire recently enacted some restrictions on abortion, making it illegal to terminate a pregnancy after 24 weeks. The law also requires all people seeking an abortion to first undergo an ultrasound.

There are also bills moving through the New Hampshire legislature to amend the 24-week abortion ban, including one to carve out exceptions for cases of rape, incest and fatal fetal anomalies. Republican Gov. Chris Sununu reiterated his support for the exceptions on Tuesday, saying “so long as I am governor, these health care services for women will remain safe and legal.”

Meanwhile, other New England states have taken steps to strengthen abortion rights over the past three years.

State lawmakers in Connecticut recently approved a bill that would expand the types of medical professionals who can provide abortion services. It would also shield providers from facing penalties under other states’ anti-abortion laws. Democratic Gov. Ned Lamont has signaled he intends to sign the bill into law.

Rhode Island enshrined the right to an abortion into state law in 2019.

Vermont also passed a law preserving the right to abortion in 2019, and voters will decide this fall whether to add an amendment protecting the “personal reproductive liberty” of residents to the state’s constitution.

Maine passed a law in 2019 saying the state would “not restrict a woman’s exercise of her private decision to terminate a pregnancy before viability.” Maine also expanded abortion access by allowing nurse practitioners, physician assistants and certified nurse-midwives to terminate pregnancies.

Other local implications

While abortion is expected to remain widely available in New England, the procedure could become illegal in many other parts of the country. Some states have already severely restricted abortion (though some of those laws are facing lawsuits). And others are expected to do so if the Supreme Court does indeed strike down Roe.

That raises questions about whether any patients could travel to New England instead to seek an abortion. In fact, some abortion providers in Massachusetts say they have already seen patients from states with severe restrictions.

“We are getting incoming calls from other states, from patients who are living in these deep red states,” said Dr. Jennifer Childs-Roshak, president of Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts. “We’ve taken care of patients from Texas in particular in both our Springfield and Boston offices.”

Childs-Roshak added they’re seeing a noticeable increase in patients as a direct result of Texas’ recent abortion ban.

A study published in The Lancet found more than half the patients seeking abortions in some states with restrictive laws, such as Mississippi and Missouri, traveled to other states to terminate their pregnancies.

Some organizations in Massachusetts are already offering help for people who need to go to other states for abortions. The Eastern Massachusetts Abortion Fund and the Abortion Rights Fund of Western Massachusetts say they maintain hotlines for people looking for financial assistance and has access to an interpretation service. Those funds, and the Jane Fund in central Massachusetts, help cover the costs of abortion care for patients — including people traveling to Massachusetts from out of state.

Liz Goodfellow, vice president of the Jane Fund’s board, said it gives people seeking help an average of $361, roughly half the cost of a first-trimester abortion. Goodfellow said the Jane Fund and the national network of abortion funds are preparing to help all those affected by the outcome of Roe.

“I also have faith that Massachusetts will become a haven for people seeking abortion,” she said. “I would love to see the infrastructure grow to meet whatever demand there is.”

The Massachusetts House of Representatives has also proposed setting aside $500,000 for local abortion funds in its annual budget.

Childs-Roshak said Planned Parenthood is also trying to help patients in other states find “the funding that it takes to get from wherever they are to a state like Massachusetts.”

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

Copyright 2022 WBUR. To see more, visit WBUR.

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