Pro-life advocates urge action

Printed from:

BOSTON – As the U.S. Supreme Court wrestled Wednesday with one of the most significant abortion cases to reach its chambers in two decades, pro-life advocates in Massachusetts highlighted legislative inaction in Boston on a measure similar to the one at the center of the high court case.

Like the Texas law, which has been challenged as a backdoor method of shutting down abortion providers in the Lone Star State, the measure proposed in Massachusetts also takes aim at abortion clinics by focusing on licensing and other regulations to govern their operations. But Bay State lawmakers have bottled up the bill in committee since June.

Called the Woman’s Safety Act (HB 2039), the bill would hold abortion facilities in Massachusetts to “basic health and safety standards,” according to the Massachusetts Family Institute. Co-sponsors include Rep. Elizabeth Poirier, a North Attleborough Republican, and Rep. John Rogers, a Norwood Democrat, as well as six other lawmakers. Despite the bipartisan support, the bill has not progressed beyond a hearing before the Joint Committee on Public Health in June 2015.

In the case before the high court, called “Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt,” the issue involves a 2013 Texas law that seeks to regulate abortion clinics as outpatient surgical facilities. It also requires doctors who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at hospitals no more than 30 miles away.

Advocacy groups like Citizenlink, which filed a friend-of-the-court brief in support of the Texas law, say that the state is subsidizing inferior care for women and needs to increase procedural safety measures. Texas Solicitor General Scott Keller told the high court justices on Wednesday that the objective is to guard patient health, noting that more than 210 women each year are hospitalized because of abortion complications.

Opponents argue that the law’s requirements are unnecessary and have resulted in clinics closing, forcing women with limited means to travel long distances in some areas, such as the Rio Grande valley, to receive abortions. Since the law passed, more than half of the 41 abortion clinics in Texas have closed. Some opponents say the law and dozens of similar state statutes are really designed to nullify the court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that made abortion legal.

In 2014, Bay State voters in 11 legislative districts were asked if lawmakers should support a law to license and inspect facilities of abortion providers, according to the Massachusetts Citizens for Life, an advocacy group that led efforts to get the question before voters. More than 70 percent said yes.

The pro-life advocacy group says current Bay State regulations require licenses and inspections for veterinarian offices, tanning and hair salons but not abortion clinics. The Massachusetts Family Institute, based in Woburn, decried that double standard in a statement Wednesday about the court case over the Texas law.

The Texas law passed in the summer of 2013, following an outcry over a Philadelphia abortion clinic run by Dr. Kermit Gosnell. He was accused of working in unsanitary clinic conditions that resulted in the death of two women at his facility and the injury of others.

A grand jury in the Gosnell case urged lawmakers across the country to close abortion clinic inspection loopholes to ensure that such tragedies are prevented in future.

In Massachusetts, at least one death of a pregnant young woman has been tied to an abortion facility, the Family Institute said. Laura Hope Smith, 22, of Sandwich died on the operating table of an abortion provider in Hyannis, according to the Cape Cod Times. Investigators cited a lack of basic safety equipment, such as a defibrillator, and supplies such as oxygen, that may have been factors in her death. The doctor involved was sentenced to three months in jail.

“Planned Parenthood recognizes the risk inherent to abortions as they admit that ‘even though in-clinic abortion procedures are generally very safe, in extremely rare cases, serious complications may be fatal,’” the Family Institute said. “States therefore have a legitimate interest in clinic inspections and reasonable requirements such as abortionists having admitting privileges at a local hospital.”

Contact Kara Bettis at [email protected] or on Twitter @karabettis.