Massachusetts is moving to enact legislation to protect abortion rights in the wake of Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court.
Gov. Charlie Baker, a Republican, told reporters Monday that he plans to sign a bill passed by the state legislature last week that would repeal several archaic state laws, including a prohibition on abortion, which technically has been criminalized in the state since the mid-19th century.
But abortion is already legal in Massachusetts thanks to Roe v. Wade, which upholds a woman’s right to have an abortion nationwide, and a 1981 Massachusetts Supreme Court ruling that also upheld the right, citing the Roe decision. If Roe were to be overturned or struck down, legal challenges to the Massachusetts Supreme Court decision could default the state’s abortion law to the centuries-old law outlawing the practice in the Bay State.
Progressives and abortion rights activists fear Kavanaugh’s confirmation could imperil Roe. Although Kavanaugh has not expressed outright opposition to the 1973 ruling, President Donald Trump has pledged to place anti-abortion rights justices on the Supreme Court, and retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy was a key swing vote in a pivotal 1992 case that upheld the landmark ruling.
The bill, which would also repeal other archaic laws that punish adultery and fornication, is dubbed the “NASTY Women Act”, named after Trump’s 2016 remark to opponent Hillary Clinton. According to Massachusetts Senate President Harriette Chandler, lawmakers in Massachusetts have wanted to pass similar legislation for six years, but the bill’s quick passage was due to Kennedy’s retirement.
“I think people are beginning to realize these are strange times we live in. Nothing is impossible, and we’ve got to have a ‘Plan B.’ If these laws are enforced, what do we do?” Chandler told Time magazine. “We’re not willing to sit back and say, ‘Well, it’s not going to happen here.’ The word for that is denial.”
Several states have moved to strengthen abortion rights in recent years. In 2014, Vermont repealed its abortion ban and Delaware followed suit in 2017. Should Baker sign the Massachusetts legislation, nine states would still have pre-Roe abortion bans on the books, according to the Guttmacher Institute, an abortion research group.
In the wake of Kennedy’s retirement, other officials in progressive-leaning states have called for the protection of abortion rights.
“I think we’ve been a little bit lazy on that front until now, because we thought, well, there’s a federal constitutional right, what do we need state statutes for,” New York Attorney General Barbara Underwood said in remarks made before the New York Citizens Budget earlier this month, adding that it was urgent that states like New York pass statutes protecting the rights afforded by Roe.
Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo, a Democrat, similarly announced earlier this month that she would like the state legislature to return for a special session revisiting abortion rights, saying it is “more urgent and necessary than ever.”