I support the ROE Act – here’s why.

I have received numerous phone calls and emails from many of you regarding the ROE Act (S.1209), a bill filed by my colleague, Senate President Emerita Harriette Chandler. I would like to take this time to outline my support for the bill, clarify what the bill seeks to accomplish, and address some of the concerns and misconceptions regarding the bill.

The ROE Act reasonably expands access to abortions after 24 weeks in cases of lethal fetal anomalies or when a fetus is incompatible with sustained life outside the uterus, ensuring medical decisions remain between a patient and her doctor.

Massachusetts law currently imposes a 24-week gestational limit on abortion care. In other words, women who seek an abortion after 24 weeks of pregnancy cannot receive one unless it is necessary to save the life of the mother or when the physical or mental health of the mother is severely at risk. As such, in the rare case involving a lethal fetal anomaly or when a fetus is incompatible with sustained life outside the uterus, current law forces a woman to carry her pregnancy to term, despite knowing that her child will not survive.

The ROE Act would reasonably expand access to abortion care after 24 weeks of pregnancy in cases of lethal fetal anomalies or when the fetus cannot survive outside the uterus. As a mother, I know that the decision to terminate a pregnancy is likely the most difficult decision a woman will ever have to make. This bill simply provides an important option under certain very limited circumstances, and does not in any way encourage late-term abortions or abortions in cases where medical professionals determine that it is likely a child might be born with a disability. Pregnancies involving lethal fetal anomalies or a fetus that cannot survive outside the uterus are rare and heart-breaking situations in which patients and doctors deserve to have every medical option available for consideration.

The ROE Act eliminates onerous, unnecessary barriers that delay and deny care and improve access to affordable reproductive care options for young women.

In Massachusetts, a young woman under the age of 18 must obtain parental consent to have an abortion, unless the woman adheres to the state’s cumbersome judicial bypass process. This system requires a woman to learn about the judicial bypass process, hire an attorney, schedule a hearing, miss school, secure transportation, and then present her reasons for seeking an abortion in front of a judge. These hearings rarely result in an abortion denial and serve only to unnecessarily delay care – often for weeks – while also potentially increasing health risks and medical costs.

Personally, it would be extremely difficult for me as a parent to find out that my daughter had an abortion and chose not to tell me. In fact, it would be pretty devastating because it would mean that there is something in our relationship that prevented her from feeling that she could confidently communicate her choice to me, so I can empathize with parents who have expressed this concern. Having said that, every woman – regardless of age – should have the right to make their own healthcare decisions, after consulting with a doctor. As such, I would support my daughter’s decision regardless. Furthermore, not all women grow up in supportive and loving households. Some young women are in situations where it is truly not safe to tell a parent about their pregnancy and their potential decision to receive an abortion – for instance, those who may be victims of abuse or incest, may fear being kicked out of their home if they disclose a pregnancy, are in the foster care system, or are not in contact with their parents. It is unconscionable that we force these young women to go through the unnecessary and emotionally straining judicial bypass process on top of having to make the extremely difficult decision to receive an abortion in the first place.

Data also suggest that our current law is, in many cases, simply forcing young women to seek care out-of-state. A National Institute of Health (NIH) analysis found that the rate of minors seeking out-of-state abortion care in Massachusetts rose by a striking 300% after the parental consent law was adopted in 1982, while the in-state teen abortion rate decreased by a significantly smaller margin. Simply put, we should not be imposing restrictions which effectively force many young women to travel out of state to receive abortion care. The ROE Act would eliminate this onerous judicial bypass requirement, allowing young women to receive abortions without parental consent upon the determination of the woman and her doctor that it is a medically-appropriate course of action. The goal of this provision is to safely and reasonably expand reproductive care options for young women.

It’s also worth clarifying something that I’ve heard from some opponents of the bill who claim that allowing women to access abortion at a young age will put them at a higher risk of medical complications. There is no existing independent data that suggests this is the case. In fact, abortion is a very safe medical procedure – the risk of major complications (those requiring hospital care) in first trimester abortions is incredibly rare, occurring at a rate of less than 0.5%. Ninety-percent of abortions performed in Massachusetts are done so at or before 12 weeks gestation. Additionally, there are follow-up care protocols that ensure safety – all patients receive information on what signs to look for that might indicate a complication and there are required follow ups within one week for patients who obtain medication abortion. 

The ROE Act establishes safety net coverage for abortion care for people who do not have health insurance.

Abortions and abortion-related care can be cost-prohibitive without health insurance. This is simply unfair. As such, the ROE Act takes the important step of providing health care coverage through the Healthy Start Program so that low-income women who do not qualify for MassHealth can access the full range of reproductive health options they need to ensure they make the medical decision that is right for them. Codifying the state’s safety net program for abortion services along with all other pregnancy-related care ensures that the state does not determine what care residents can access based on how much money they make.

The ROE Act does not allow unrestricted, unregulated access to abortions.

As I explained above, the ROE Act is not a bill that authorizes unrestricted, unregulated access to abortion under all circumstances. Rather, it is a thoughtful bill that reasonably extends reproductive care options to cases involving lethal fetal anomalies or a fetus that cannot survive outside the uterus, to young women, and to low-income women without health insurance. Contrary to some of the criticisms I have heard, nothing in this legislation states that abortions would be allowed “anywhere” or under “any circumstance,” nor is there any indication that incidence of “back alley” abortions would increase if this bill passed. In fact, by reasonably expanding access to abortion services in Massachusetts, we eliminate the need for such “back alley” abortions which are otherwise the product of restrictive laws.

I firmly believe that everyone should be in control of their own bodies – and this includes women and their healthcare decisions. While I recognize that some of you may disagree with my position on this issue, I appreciate everyone who has taken the time to weigh in by phone, email or in-person. If you have not done so already, I encourage you to view the full text of the bill here: https://malegislature.gov/Bills/191/S1209.

If you have any questions or concerns, please feel free to contact my office by phone at (617) 722-1432 or by email at Cindy.Friedman@masenate.gov.