Massachusetts Senate Picking At Bones of Anti-Abortion Statutes

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By Andy Metzger

BOSTON — The Massachusetts Senate plans to take up a bill next week that aims to wipe old and mostly forgotten abortion and contraception statutes from the lawbooks.

The bill (S 784) sponsored by Acting Senate President Harriette Chandler, and filed before she attained the top leadership position, would repeal abortion and contraceptive crimes dating to 1845.

The bill would be a symbolic victory for women but would have no practical effect as the old statutes are no longer enforced, according to Planned Parenthood Advocacy Fund of Massachusetts, which supports the bill.

The Senate Committee on Ways and Means endorsed the bill Thursday with 15 of its 17 members approving it. Senators Vinny deMacedo and Richard Ross, both Republicans, reserved their rights – declining to vote for or against it – while the committee’s third Republican, Westfield Senator Don Humason, voted for it. 

None of the statutes that would be repealed are currently enforced, according to an aide to the Senate Committee on Ways and Means. The attorney general’s office confirmed that the statutes are not enforced and said many of the statutes have been deemed unconstitutional.

The bill would remove the requirement that an abortion performed during or after the 13th week of pregnancy be performed in a hospital that has facilities for general surgery, according to a bill summary. In 1987, the Massachusetts Appeals Court ruled that requirement should not be enforced in light of federal legal precedent, according to Planned Parenthood.

Twenty-two states require abortion facilities to meet surgical center standards, the National Conference of State Legislatures reported soon after the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2016 decision striking down a Texas law deemed too burdensome for women seeking an abortion.

“There is no medical justification for this requirement and it serves only to create an unnecessary barrier to care,” Planned Parenthood spokeswoman Johanna Kaiser told the News Service about the surgical facilities requirement that is still on the books.

In the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling, the Supreme Court made abortion a legal right throughout the country.

The Senate on Thursday opted to take up the bill on Thursday, January 25, setting an amendment deadline of Monday at 5 p.m..

Some of the restrictions the bill intends to repeal harken to an earlier more puritanical era, such as the prohibition on selling contraceptives to unmarried people.

In 1879 Governor Thomas Talbot signed a prohibition on the sale or advertising of contraceptives, a crime that then carried a penalty of up to five years imprisonment. In 1845 Governor George Briggs signed a law that made it a crime to “maliciously or without lawful justification” assist in an abortion procedure, punishing offenders with one-to-seven years’ imprisonment or five-to-20 years if the woman died.

The bill would completely repeal both of those old statutes.