Massachusetts Dead-Letter Anti-Abortion Laws Repealed

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By Katie Lannan

Signing into law a repeal of old anti-abortion statutes Friday, Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker said he was doing so “partly to make a statement but also to make clear that here in Massachusetts we will not compromise on a woman’s right to her own decisions.”

The measure strikes from the books what Baker described as “a series of antiquated, inappropriate, in some cases harmful laws” that have been “thankfully ignored for the most part for a very long time.”

“It’s a good day for Massachusetts,” Baker said after signing the new law.

The repealed laws laid out criminal penalties for performing or undergoing an abortion, limited contraception access to married couples, and required that all abortions provided from the thirteenth week of pregnancy onward be performed in a hospital.

Filed in January 2017 by state Senator Harriette Chandler and passed by the Senate a year later, the bill gained momentum after U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy announced his retirement and President Donald Trump nominated Judge Brett Kavanaugh to succeed him, a move abortion rights supporters say puts at risk the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that guaranteed access to abortion.

“Perhaps but for the threats coming from Washington, we would not have elevated this to the front burner,” Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito said.

The bill signed by the pro-choice Republican governor was titled “an act negating archaic statutes targeting young women” and dubbed by backers the “NASTY Women Act,” to memorialize Trump’s characterization of Hillary Clinton as a “nasty woman” during the 2016 campaign.

Eighteen Democrat lawmakers were on hand for the bill signing held in the State Library, where Baker in November signed a law requiring health insurance plans to cover most types of oral contraception without co-pays.

Chandler, a Worcester Democrat who now serves as Senate president emerita, said the law officially decriminalizing abortion was “hardly an overnight success story” and hinted at future reproductive rights legislation.

“It took a while from people making fun of it and saying, ‘Why do you have to do that?’ she said. “And now it’s national news and Massachusetts is national news for taking the leadership role that we so rightfully deserve on this issue.”

Chandler continued, “This is just the beginning. We are taking some nasty bills off the rolls. Let’s stay tuned to see what new bills we put on to truly safeguard women’s health and reproductive rights. The best is yet to be.”

Rebecca Hart-Holder, the executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Massachusetts, said she was recently looking through old news clippings and found a 1971 article about advocates pushing for repeal of the state’s anti-abortion laws.

“Today is a reality because of over 40 years of hard work,” she said.