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‘Uteruses Are Being Penalized’: Massachusetts Sees Pro-Choice Legislative Blitz

Auditi Guha

Massachusetts Democrats are primed to pass a series of pro-choice bills, including one that would provide medication abortion at colleges across the state.

Massachusetts state Rep. Lindsay Sabadosa (D-Northampton) has seen how hard it is for low-income families and students on remote college campuses to access or pay for abortion care.

A new lawmaker and the first woman to hold her district seat, Sabadosa has volunteered with the Planned Parenthood Advocacy Fund of Massachusetts and been on the board and intake team of the Abortion Rights Fund of Western Massachusetts. A founding board member of DARLA, the Doula Association for Reproductive Loss and Abortion, Sabadosa told Rewire.News she drew from her experience to introduce bills this session to expand reproductive access in the Bay State and set a high standard for health care.

HD 3658 would require public universities to provide medication abortion, a nonsurgical regime of two drugs. The “Act to Establish Health Equity for Pregnant Persons,” HD 3274/SD 1450, would get rid of co-pays for abortion care.

“Even though we have some fairly good laws in Massachusetts around abortion, financial abilities really impact access, so it felt like it was important to address a problem I’m seeing regularly,” Sabadosa said.

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MassHealth, the state’s Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Program, covers abortion care, but most private insurances don’t. People have called the Abortion Rights Fund to complain about the high cost of their deductible and how they have to basically pay for the procedure out of pocket, Sabadosa said.

“Unfortunately we live in a world where $730 for an abortion makes it completely inaccessible for most people. That’s only the cost of a medical abortion during the first ten weeks; it gets exponentially more expensive after that,” she said. “So it struck us that really this is an economic disparity. We are charging people with uteruses more money for health care. Pregnancy is another area where the costs are exponential, so women or people with uteruses are being penalized simply because these are health services they may require at some time in their lives.”

The bill would require health insurance plans cover all pregnancy-related care, including abortion care, prenatal care, childbirth, and postpartum care, without cost sharing.

“Pregnancy care—prenatal, labor and delivery, and postpartum care are fundamental to ensuring healthy pregnancies and babies. To see Massachusetts make pregnancy coverage a priority along with abortion and other reproductive health care shows that they are putting patients first,” Elizabeth Nash, senior state issues manager at the Guttmacher Institute, said in an email.

California’s Democratic-majority legislature last year passed a first-of-its-kind bill to provide medication abortion on college campuses, but Gov. Jerry Brown (D) vetoed the measure after some university officials pushed back against the pro-choice bill. The bill would have affected more than 400,000 students on campuses across California.

Sabadosa is finalizing a bill requiring medication abortion options be available at public college campuses in the state. “We have a lot of students at UMass Amherst who have a hard time getting to a clinic to get abortion care because the nearest clinic is in Springfield, which is not close, and there is no public transportation to get there,” she said. 

After repealing antiquated anti-choice laws last year, Massachusetts legislators are looking to further bolster abortion access with the newly filed Remove Obstacles and Expand (ROE) Abortion Access Act (HD 2548/SD 109), which aims to remove anti-choice restrictions.

“The ROE Act breaks down barriers to ensure that women are able to receive appropriate medical care, according to a physician’s best judgement, in tragic circumstances when there are lethal abnormalities or a risk to the woman’s life during the course of a pregnancy. The law should reflect that these are very difficult decisions that should be made between a woman and her doctor,” sponsor Sen. Harriette L. Chandler (D-Worcester) said in a statement. 

This is a top priority for advocates because it “removes the onerous, shaming, and medically unnecessary restrictions that deny people care in Massachusetts,” Tricia Wajda, vice president of external affairs at the Planned Parenthood Advocacy Fund of Massachusetts, said in a statement. “This important legislation reflects the values of the vast majority of people in Massachusetts who believe women should make their own personal health care decisions, and who support the right to access abortion safely and legally, without interference from politicians.”

The ROE Act would go above and beyond the protections of Roe v. Wade, advocates say, by not only codifying the right to abortion but also removing obstacles like parental consent and forced waiting periods; allowing for abortions after 24 weeks in cases of lethal fetal anomalies; ensuring medical decisions remain between a patient and doctor; and removing medically inaccurate terms like “unborn child” from state law. 

Sabadosa’s two bills, which would reduce the expense of abortion care and expand medication abortion access to public universities, could surpass both the Roe protections passed by Democrats in New York last month and Oregon’s reproductive rights laws, often considered the gold standard in abortion protections, activists said. In addition to making private health insurance providers cover the cost of abortion care, Oregon pays for undocumented residents to receive abortion care.

“Massachusetts has a long history of leading the nation on health care access. In this uncertain environment, we must be visionary and articulate a clear vision of reproductive freedom for all Bay Staters,” Rebecca Hart Holder, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Massachusetts, said in a statement. “Passage of the ROE Act will ensure the people of Massachusetts are able to access the care they need without political interference.”

Massachusetts lawmakers expect Gov. Charlie Baker (R) to sign off on all three bills. Baker has opposed the Trump administration’s anti-choice policies and has supported the right to abortion care.

Baker’s office did not respond to a query from Rewire.News

“Individual rights and freedoms, including the right to access safe and legal abortion, are at the heart of who we are as a Commonwealth, but that commitment to reproductive freedom and equitable access to health care is blatantly missing from our current laws around abortion,” Wajda said. “As a state known as a health care pioneer, Massachusetts’ laws must trust medical professionals, end government intrusion into personal medical decisions, and declare that abortion is health care.”

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