Massachusetts House votes to repeal old anti-abortion laws

BOSTON — The Massachusetts House has voted to repeal a series of antiquated state laws, including a ban on abortion with origins dating to 1845.

Supporters describe the move as a hedge against possible future rulings by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Republican President Donald Trump's nomination of Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the court has raised the possibility the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that created a nationwide right to abortion could be weakened or overturned.

The House voted 136-9 Wednesday to remove the laws.

"The changing dynamics of the Supreme Court is a real and legitimate concern," said Democratic state Rep. Claire Cronin, House chair of the Judiciary Committee. "We have both a president and a vice president who have expressed an intent to overturn Roe v. Wade and we take them at their word."

Critics said the vote was unnecessary, noting the anti-abortion laws were largely rendered moot by a 1981 ruling by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court that protects access to abortion.

Republican Rep. James Lyons, of Andover, said it's important to remember that despite its reputation as a liberal state, not everyone in Massachusetts agrees on abortion.

"There is a difference of opinion in Massachusetts whether you folks like it or not," he said. "There is another side."

The Massachusetts Senate in January unanimously voted to eliminate the pre-Roe laws.

Among the laws that would be eliminated by the bill are a ban on unmarried people having access to contraception and a ban on distributing information about how to access contraception or abortions. Cronin said the bill also would eliminate laws dating back to the 17th and 18th centuries including criminal penalties for adultery and fornication.

Massachusetts state Senate President Harriette Chandler has pushed for the repeal of the laws for years. The Democrat said the Senate plans to ship the bill to Republican Gov. Charlie Baker.

Baker describes himself as a supporter of abortion rights and has indicated support for the repeal efforts.

Abortion rights advocates hailed the renewed push for the bill.

NARAL Pro-Choice Massachusetts President Rebecca Hart Holder said in a statement that "repealing antiquated laws is the first, critical step to ensuring that even if Roe v. Wade were overturned tomorrow, the reproductive freedom of the people of Massachusetts would be unequivocally protected."

She said the state should go further and "enshrine protections for abortion access in state law and become a safe haven state for reproductive health care."

The Catholic Action League of Massachusetts called the vote hasty and joined with other critics who argued that lawmakers and abortion rights advocates were hoping to score political points by highlighting archaic laws that can't be enforced.

"The state Constitution contains a right to abortion," Catholic Action League Executive Director C. J. Doyle said in a statement. "A possible future U.S. Supreme Court decision reversing or modifying Roe v. Wade would have no effect in Massachusetts. This measure is more about pandering than lawmaking."

 

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