Massachusetts lawmakers urge action after Supreme Court abortion ruling



Politics

“This ruling cannot be the last word in our fight to protect reproductive freedom, health care, and rights in America.”

The U.S. Supreme Court seen on Thursday. Kevin Dietsch / Getty Images

In the wake of the conservative Supreme Court’s decision to leave in place a Texas law banning most abortions, members of the all-Democratic Massachusetts delegation are pushing for action from Congress to override the ruling.

“Congress must step up,” Rep. Ayanna Pressley said in a statement Thursday.

“In this moment where anti-choice state legislatures and a co-opted Supreme Court will stop at nothing to ban abortion care, we must proactively legislate reproductive justice and meaningfully advance policies that affirm that abortion care is a fundamental human right,” the Boston Democrat added.

The Supreme Court ruling handed down Wednesday night — in which five conservative justices overruled the court’s three liberal justices, as well as Chief Justice John Roberts — denied an emergency appeal by abortion providers in Texas against the so-called heartbeat law, which bans all abortions, even in the case of rape and invest, after medical professionals can detect fetal cardiac activity. That effectively means after about six weeks, before many women know they’re pregnant.

The law imposes the strictest rules against abortion since the Roe v. Wade case in 1973, and the decision Wednesday is seen by some experts as a sign that the Supreme Court could reverse the landmark abortion rights ruling this fall.

In her statement, Pressley called on Congress to pass a bill she co-sponsors, the Women’s Health Protection Act, which would enshrine the right to abortion care in all 50 states through the legislative, rather than judicial, process.

And in a statement later Thursday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced that the Democrat-controlled chamber would hold a vote on the bill when it returns to session.

“We. Are. Not. Going. Back,” Rep. Katherine Clark, a Melrose Democrat and assistant House speaker, tweeted in response to the planned vote.

“Reproductive rights are human rights,” Rep. Lori Trahan, a Westford Democrat, tweeted Thursday, calling the Texas law “a direct attack on those rights.”

“The House will pass the Women’s Health Protection Act to protect the right to access abortion care no matter the state you’re in,” Trahan said. “The Senate must do the same.”

Of course, the bill faces more roadblocks in the Senate, where Democrats hold a majority in the 50-50 chamber only by virtue of Vice President Kamala Harris’s tie-breaking vote — and where a Republican filibuster would likely require the legislation get 60 votes.

The bill does have 48 co-sponsors in the Senate — every Democrat besides West Virginian Sen. Joe Manchin and Pennsylvania Sen. Bob Casey. But only two Republican senators — Maine Sen. Susan Collins and Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski — are seen as supporters of abortion rights.

Given those dynamics, Sen Ed. Markey said Thursday that the Supreme Court’s ruling is another reason to abolish the filibuster, a position he shares with Pressley and fellow Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren.

While voicing his support for the Women’s Health Protection Act, Markey also said Congress should pass his own legislation to add four seats to the Supreme Court and “restore the Court’s balance and public standing” (lacking support from Democratic leaders, that bill’s prospects look even more slim).

“Senate Democrats have the power to fix this problem right now by abolishing the filibuster and passing my legislation to expand the Supreme Court,” Markey said in a statement.

“This ruling cannot be the last word in our fight to protect reproductive freedom, health care, and rights in America,” the Malden Democrat said.

At the local level, state lawmakers have already passed a bill that ensures access to abortion rights is protected within the borders of Massachusetts. Late last year, the Democrat-controlled Legislature overrode a veto by the generally pro-choice Republican Gov. Charlie Baker to pass the so-called ROE Act (Baker had opposed certain provisions in the legislation that expanded access to late-term abortion and allowed 16 and 17 year olds to seek abortions without their parent’s consent).

Asked about this week’s Supreme Court ruling, Baker’s office noted that the governor has signed multiple bills to sure up access, as well as actions taken to offset federal funding cuts, to reproductive health care in Massachusetts.

“Governor Baker is a strong supporter of women’s access to reproductive health care and is proud to have signed several bills into law to protect access to women’s health care services, ensure contraception coverage and to ensure a woman’s right to choose is protected in Massachusetts,” Sarah Finlaw, Baker’s communications director, said in a statement.