More than a dozen representatives, most of them women, took to the House floor one-by-one Wednesday afternoon to argue in favor of a bill designed to ensure access to reproductive health care, to support the patients who need it and to protect its providers in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling that erases the nearly 50-year-old right to an abortion.
Some of the representatives shared their own personal experiences with reproductive care during their remarks, portraying those services as at once personal, necessary and widespread. Rep. Kate Lipper-Garabedian, a Melrose Democrat, recounted experiencing two miscarriages in the five years between the birth of her sons.
"With the second, my body did not on its own complete the process of a miscarriage. I needed the compassionate care of my OB/GYN to assist with the removal of the fetus," Lipper-Garabedian said. "That was a personally painful and entirely common experience. Now, in many states, doctors may hesitate to perform that type of medical procedure for fear of being accused of performing an abortion, further putting women's lives at risk."
Several recounted advocating decades ago, as college students or activists who had not yet run for office, for broadening access to abortion and reproductive care in the United States.
Rep. Ruth Balser, who is 73, addressed her colleagues as "a woman who is old enough to remember the days before Roe v. Wade," lamenting "the pain that in particular my generation of women are feeling, that that hard-fought and won right has been ripped from us."
Rep. Carol Doherty of Taunton, who counted herself among Balser's generation of women "whose choices were very narrow," described the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling as a moment of revelation that the country was on a "positive path." A bit more than a decade later, Doherty worked on the No on 1 campaign, which successfully defeated a ballot question that would have declared that the Massachusetts Constitution does not preclude state lawmakers from regulating or banning abortions.
"I'd quite forgotten all of that history because we are here today speaking basically about the same kinds of issues in the same way," Doherty said in her first-ever speech from the House floor. "We thought we had won the war, but the matter of fact is that we won the battle and the war still rages."
Cambridge Democrat Rep. Marjorie Decker said the topic was "hard to talk about."
"Let's be very clear: the Supreme Court's decision is rooted in misogyny," Decker said. "The motivation behind that is about ensuring that women and those who need access to reproductive health care no longer have control over their bodies."
"I am 50 years old and I'm standing up here having to defend a right that I have had my entire life," she added.
Rep. Tram Nguyen of Andover said, "The decision of when, whether or how to have a child is deeply personal and should not involve the government."
Despite the Supreme Court's ruling last week, abortion remains legal in Massachusetts under state law.
The bill that the House passed Wednesday (H 4930) would declare that access to both reproductive health care and gender-affirming care is a "right secured by the constitution or laws" of Massachusetts and it would shield providers of reproductive and gender-affirming care and their patients from out-of-state legal action.
It also includes provisions requiring health insurers to cover abortions and related services without deductibles, co-pays or cost-sharing, allowing providers of reproductive and gender-affirming health care to have their home addresses made confidential, and permitting abortions after 24 weeks of pregnancy in the case of a "severe" fetal anomaly in addition to already-allowed circumstances involving "fatal" fetal anomalies. It also seeks to boost access to emergency contraception.
The House passed the bill on a 136-17 vote that saw six Democrats join 11 of the House's 27 Republicans in opposition.
The only representative who spoke in opposition to the bill Wednesday was Dracut Democrat Rep. Colleen Garry, who said that she would be voting against it "not because I want to prevent people from having abortions -- personally, I don't believe in abortions -- but this bill goes beyond" what she could support. Garry, who spoke late in the hours-long debate, also said she was "very disappointed" with the tone of Wednesday's debate.
"We have some sincerely-held religious and personal beliefs that have been vilified by members who've spoken before me," she said. Garry added, "And that's why I had to call in and voice that there are some pro-life people in Massachusetts who honestly and truly believe in pro-life issues and do not do anything to try to vilify or judge women, and we should not be judged."
Republican Rep. Joseph McKenna of Webster also gave voice to an amendment he filed that would have allowed taxpayers who are morally opposed to abortion to indicate that on their tax returns and would have directed the state to not use that person's tax dollars to fund abortion services.
"I offered this amendment for the minority opinion that may exist here in Massachusetts -- and based on the number of speakers preceding me, the extreme minority opinion -- that an abortion represents the untimely ending of a human baby life," McKenna said before the amendment was rejected.
More on Roe v. Wade and reproductive rights
The House vote makes reproductive rights legislation almost certain to join the growing mix of legislative priorities in the final four-and-a-half weeks of the legislative session given that the House, Senate and governor have all indicated an interest.
Within minutes of the court's ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson being handed down last week, Gov. Charlie Baker signed an executive order barring Massachusetts from cooperating with extradition attempts from other states connected to reproductive care, protecting providers from professional discipline arising from out-of-state charges, and prohibiting executive branch agencies from helping another state investigate someone for delivering or receiving reproductive health services.
House Speaker Ronald Mariano said this week that one "significant difference" between the House bill and Baker's order "is we're putting it into the rule of law as opposed to his executive order, which only covers the areas which he has control over."
The Senate added legal shields similar to what is included in the House bill to its fiscal 2023 state budget plan the week after the Supreme Court's draft opinion overturning Roe vs. Wade was leaked and became public. When the House released its bill Tuesday, Senate President Karen Spilka said her chamber would consider something similar after the House acted.
"I applaud the House for adopting much of the language the Senate already passed in the bill that they released today, and we look forward to debating a version of this bill when it comes to the Senate," she said. "There are many pathways towards enshrining the Commonwealth's reproductive health care access in to law, and so we look forward to a passing a final bill which confirms our resolve to protect reproductive rights."
Baker vetoed a 2020 bill that codified the right to abortion in state law, citing concerns with sections dealing with abortions later in pregnancy and the age of consent for the practice. The Legislature override that veto. While he has not indicated that he might veto a reproductive health care shield bill, Mariano said this week that the House wanted to act with enough time to override a gubernatorial veto before the July 31 end of formal lawmaking for the year.