Not Infanticide? ROE Act-Supporting State Rep Explains Thinking Behind Abortion Expansion Amendment

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All but 19 Democrats in the Massachusetts House of Representatives voted for a version of the ROE Act that came up for a vote last week, including state Representative Patricia Haddad (D-Somerset).

This version of the ROE Act is Amendment 759 on the House’s Fiscal Year 2021 budget. It passed 108-49.

If enacted, it would expand legal abortion in Massachusetts after 24 weeks in cases where “an abortion is warranted because of a lethal fetal anomaly incompatible with sustained life outside the uterus.” It would also lower the age of minors who need consent from either a parent or a judge for an abortion from 17 and younger to 15 and under. It would eliminate language from existing Massachusetts law that requires a doctor to attempt to save the life of a baby born alive during an attempted abortion.

Haddad understands that it’s a controversial subject, but she spoke to New Boston Post by telephone on Tuesday morning to explain her position on the bill, including what she thought it does right, how it could use improvement, and her response to some of the critiques of it.

“I know people are upset because they didn’t like the process that was used, there are kind of extraordinary times,” Haddad said. “There are things that really need to get done and that was a place we could put it in order to make it happen this session and as I told a lot of people, ‘If you believe in the concept, you can’t get upset with the vehicle that was used.’ There were some people who say they’re pro-choice and that they’re in favor of the bill, but voted against it because of the process — and that was disappointing. I can’t change people’s minds about their feelings or thoughts, but I was very happy that it passed.”

Haddad was referring to how the original, slightly different version of the ROE Act  (S.1209/H.3320) never received a vote out of committee, as is standard procedure for a standalone bill to come up for a vote on the House or Senate floor in Massachusetts.

Although Haddad supports the abortion legislation, she did say there is one place where she thinks it could be better: the parental consent portion when it comes to younger teen-agers. Since the age of consent for sexual intercourse in Massachusetts is 16, and abortions for girls younger than that which end with abortion can be due to sexual abuse, she would like to see additional protections added for young teenagers when possible.

Her concern is that attorneys and judges are not mandated reporters obligated to report child abuse to the state. That concern is primarily about girls in the 13 to 15 age range. She says that she thinks a girl in her early teens should be able to meet confidentially with a mandated reporter beforehand to make sure that the girl was not coerced into sexual activity and to see if the child is a victim of sexual abuse.

“I feel that if a young person presents themselves for an abortion, chances are there’s more going on there — especially if they can’t bring a parent or a guardian,” she said. “Is there more going on? Are they afraid? If there were a process with a doctor or a children’s advocacy center, then they are mandated reporters so if there were something going on, they’d get to the bottom of it. We always worry that young people are being trafficked and the trafficker knows the loopholes, so should the trafficker tell that person how you do it, there’s no intervening person who really has the ability to bring in a third-party to investigate. That’s the only [issue], and I’m not faulting the amendment at all.”

Haddad said praised the prime mover of the amendment, state Representative Claire Cronin (D-Easton), for her work. She said that Cronin has done a great job and met with anyone who had reservations about the ROE Act, taking questions and speaking with people about their concerns.

“It’s been such a crazy year,” Haddad said. “Who would’ve thought we’d be in session in November trying to squeeze out five more bills? But it was a great step in the right direction.”

Critics have called the ROE Act an invitation to more late-term abortions. Haddad said she sees it a different way. 

“I really believe that people are misreading that,” Haddad said. “From the beginning, we have talked about the fatal fetal anomaly as a fetus that’s unable to thrive outside of the womb. There are no provisions in there that says someone in the seventh or eighth month can change their mind. When they talk about abortion up until the point of birth, that’s patently untrue.”

She also said that, although rare, she agrees that it is a sad occurrence. 

“This is a pregnancy that is 100 percent wanted,” she said. “When you receive a diagnosis that your pregnancy is gonna end in a baby that’s born that suffers because they don’t have everything they need to survive outside of the womb, so what we’ve done is give the option. I know people who have been given that option and taken the pregnancy to its natural conclusion and then they don’t have a child after that. It takes a great deal of strength. If you can’t to have that kind of strength to go forward with that kind of loss, then you need to have the choice to terminate at a different point.”

“You do it because, at the end, there’s so much joy and happiness,” she added. “But if that’s not your conclusion, it’s just so difficult. So I know they’re claiming that the life-saving equipment does not have to be used. Well, the Hippocratic Oath says do no harm and the doctors and nurses or whoever perform that service, they have a duty well beyond the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to give whatever comfort available.”

New Boston Post also asked Haddad for her thoughts abortion legislation eliminating Section 12P of Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 112. That section states:

Section 12P. If an abortion is performed pursuant to section twelve M, the physician performing the abortion shall take all reasonable steps, both during and subsequent to the abortion, in keeping with good medical practice, consistent with the procedure being used, to preserve the life and health of the aborted child. Such steps shall include the presence of life-supporting equipment, as defined by the department of public health, in the room where the abortion is to be performed.

Haddad said that doctors will save babies born who have a chance at surviving, but there are some that they know won’t.

“Now if that fetus is born and doesn’t have what is necessary to survive, then comfort is what will be provided,” Haddad said. “Those on the other side will claim that they know many survivors of abortion. O.K.. But we’re not talking about a compromised fetus to begin with. Others will say that doctors can be wrong. Well, that’s why the life-saving equipment is there. It’s so emotional. I don’t try to convince people to come to my side, I try to show them where they might be in error and what the intent of the law is and what the final outcomes are. We’re trying to make the process more streamlined for a young person so that it’s a pill and not an invasive process. The bottom line is I think we did a very good job.”

“When people tell me I’ll be guilty of infanticide, I have to look to myself and say that is a very untrue statement,” she added. “You have to have the courage of your convictions to know you’re doing the right thing and help people even if it only helps one woman recover and grieve from this great loss.”

A New Boston Post reporter asked if Haddad if babies born with an open skull, a term used for anencephaly, would fall under that category. She said yes. 

“That fetus cannot survive outside of the womb without a skull,” she said. “Think about people at the end of their lives. It’s the same thing. Physicians provide comfort. There comes a point where you’re not trying to save the life anymore, you’re just trying to ease that person into their demise, their death. I hate saying that word. It’s kind of the same thing:  you provide comfort care. And I believe that’s an actual medical term. I remember when my mother wasn’t doing well they told me they were providing comfort care.”

Typically, a baby born with anencephaly dies within a couple of days after birth, although there have been rare but documented cases of babies making it at least to their first birthday, as CBS and People Magazine confirm.

Toward the end of the interview, Haddad also said supporters of Amendment 759 should not be judged harshly.

“The people who chose to vote for this bill, they’re not bad people. Accusing people of infanticide or any of the horrible things that are being said implies that these are somehow bad people,” Haddad said. “They’re not bad people. They believe that everyone needs their own individual way of dealing with these issues. We’re providing that and provide a process for that fetus that cannot survive outside of the womb.”