Our Opinion: Protecting women's rights in Massachusetts

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The shameful anti-abortion laws passed recently in a number of states — drawn up and supported largely by men with no medical backgrounds, and in the case of Alabama, only a vague concept of the birds and the bees — have understandably alarmed women throughout the nation. Massachusetts has strong abortion rights laws, but this is a frightening time in America that demands vigilance.

Charlie Baker, Massachusetts' pro-choice Republican governor, acknowledged in an interview on Boston Public Radio Thursday that "there is a tremendous amount of anxiety" over abortion rights around the country. For his part, the governor promised he would "do everything I need to do to protect a women's right to choose here in Massachusetts, period." While many Republicans, including former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, have blown with the prevailing winds on the issue, Gov. Baker has been consistent, even publicly disagreeing with his state party's anti-choice platform. There is every reason to believe that he will uphold his pledge.

It's no coincidence that these hugely restrictive abortion laws are emerging now. Supporters know that they will generate court challenges which could lead all the way to the Supreme Court, which in Roe v. Wade in 1973 ruled that the U.S. Constitution provides a fundamental "right to privacy" that protects a pregnant woman's liberty to choose whether or not to have an abortion. Foes of Roe v. Wade believe the appointment of Brett Kavanaugh, whose political partisanship was fully exposed during his confirmation hearings, to the U.S. Supreme Court by President Trump will tip the Court's vote against Roe v. Wade should a challenge to it emerge.

Alabama's nearly total ban on abortions, the most egregious of a bad lot, is an assault on women's rights in general and the rights of poor women in particular. Restrictions on Medicaid will make it more difficult for poor women to find services that women of economic means can acquire. This will provide a boost to the back alley abortion industry with all of its health risks. NBC reported Friday that the six states pushing restrictive anti-abortion laws — Alabama, Georgia, Ohio, Missouri, Louisiana and Mississippi — have among the highest rates of infant mortality in the nation, putting the lie to their pious claims of concern for the health of babies. Massachusetts boasts the lowest rate of infant mortality in the nation.

The governor of Massachusetts, along with pledging to protect and uphold laws guaranteeing a woman's right to choose, noted in the radio interview that he and the Legislature have taken dated anti-abortion laws off the books so they cannot be exploited by those who would threaten women's rights. He also expressed his support for comprehensive sex education in the schools, as he has since his campaign of 2014. It should be noted that the politicians in the states that have passed restrictive new abortion laws have blocked sex education and efforts to assure that contraception be readily available at low cost. Politicians who don't support measures that can prevent unwanted pregnancies and abortions cannot truthfully describe themselves as being anti-abortion.

Gov. Baker did express skepticism about the state ROE Act, which would legalize abortions after 24 weeks in cases of fatal fetal abnormalities that have been determined by a doctor to make life after birth unsustainable. This legislation, currently in committee on Beacon Hill, is in essence a response to the Supreme Court in Roe v. Wade tying state regulations of abortions to the three trimesters of pregnancy. The governor said he didn't see a need to change abortion laws in the state but was open to arguments in favor as the bill moves forward. The reason to bring this legislation forward now is unclear. If the point is to introduce more liberal abortion laws to counter more restrictive abortion laws being introduced elsewhere than the political divide over abortion will only grow wider, which is of no benefit when that chasm must be lessened.

More light and less heat must be cast on the abortion issue now that it has erupted in the nation once again. Six states are cynically ratcheting up the heat. Massachusetts should be one of the states shedding light while guaranteeing that hard-won women's rights will not be weakened or lost.

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