State Senate passes budget endorsement to protect abortion providers

Massachusetts reproductive and gender-affirming healthcare providers would benefit from new protections from lawsuits in other states, as would out-of-state residents who travel here to seek services, including abortion, under a budget amendment the Senate passed on Wednesday.

Senate Democrats touted the measure as a bulwark against Republican-led efforts in other states to restrict access to abortion and limit treatment options for transgender or non-binary patients, warning that the Court Supreme Court of the United States appears poised to overturn Roe v. Wade as other states take steps to expand law enforcement beyond their own borders.

Sen. Cindy Friedman of Arlington said lawmakers in Texas and Oklahoma passed “bounty-like provisions” allowing their residents to file a private lawsuit against other Texans or Oklahomans who surrender. in Massachusetts for reproductive and gender-affirming care as well as against Massachusetts workers who provide these services.

“We are now faced with a situation where another state, in state laws enacted by its legislature, is threatening the rights of law-abiding residents of our Commonwealth for engaging in lawful activities under our enacted laws by our duly elected legislature here in Massachusetts,” Friedman said on the Senate floor. “This is a blatant and direct attack on a state’s ability to make its own laws and protect its own residents.”

The action comes amid an increasingly bitter battle over access to abortion and other reproductive health services and how states support their LGBTQ residents. According to Friedman, another 26 states have laws in place or pending bills “to significantly restrict access to reproductive care,” and another 15 states have laws or pending bills restricting reproductive care. gender affirmation.

During debate on its state budget for fiscal year 2023, the Senate passed a Friedman amendment it said would create a series of new safeguards for patients and providers. The Senate passed the amendment in an unrecorded voice vote and no senator spoke against the proposal.

Physicians, medical assistants, pharmacists, nurses, psychologists and social workers would be shielded from the consequences of licensing due to the provision of reproductive care – which not only covers abortion but also contraception, miscarriage management and other pregnancy-related services — or many supportive services and treatments for gender dysphoria, according to an amendment summary provided by the office of Senate Speaker Karen Spilka.

Massachusetts law enforcement would be prohibited from participating in any investigation by federal authorities, another state, or private citizens regarding legally protected reproductive and gender-affirming health care provided in the state of Massachusetts. Bay, and the governor in many cases could not extradite a person to a different state to face abortion or other protected service charges.

Similarly, courts would be prohibited from ordering anyone in Massachusetts to testify or produce documents for lawsuits involving these practices, and judges could not issue subpoenas in a case involving these health care services unless the offense in question also violates Bay State law.

“The duly elected legislature of Massachusetts has repeatedly affirmed that the people of the Commonwealth will have their fundamental rights preserved and protected here in our state, regardless of what happens federally or in any other state,” Spilka said in a statement. statement issued after the vote.

Like Friedman, Spilka warned of a potential scenario in which a Massachusetts resident could face lawsuits from another state “for exercising legal rights in our Commonwealth.”

“We cannot, and will not let this stand,” she said.

The amendment also requires the Department of Public Health to establish a statewide standing order allowing pharmacists to dispense emergency contraceptives, a measure that supporters say will bolster insurance coverage and will make it a more accessible option.

State law already guarantees abortion access, but following a May 2 Politico report publishing a leaked U.S. Supreme Court draft decision that would strike down the federal right to abortion enshrined in Roe v. Wade, Massachusetts legislative leaders pledged to explore other measures. .

Rather than introduce a standalone bill, Spilka opted to use the state’s annual budget to pursue expanded liability protections for reproductive health and gender-affirming providers. While the House’s position on the measures is not known – the issues will be part of a larger conference committee negotiation – the strategy is an attempt to tie the measure to a bill that will reach the office of the governor in the coming weeks.

Friedman told the News Service on Wednesday that the measure ended up in the budget “because of the urgency of what’s happening.”

“Oklahoma just passed a law, Texas passed it, there’s the leak of the Supreme Court’s ruling on reproductive access for women, and it’s all happening,” Friedman said. . “So we felt like that was absolutely the vehicle in front of us to be proactive in protecting our residents and protecting our suppliers.”

The House approved its version of the fiscal year 2023 budget in April, before the draft court ruling was leaked and without any reproductive health or gender-affirming care language. Representatives are expected to accept the Senate’s approach to submitting the measure to Baker.

Legislative leaders typically lead negotiations on a final budget bill in conference committees, and in recent years those deliberations have dragged on into the summer, sometimes failing to produce a final budget until after the beginning of the exercise.

Friedman said she wasn’t sure if there was support in the House for the exact measure passed by the Senate, but described “very, very strong support” for the 2020 law codifying the right to health care. abortion in Massachusetts, which the legislature enacted on Baker’s veto.

“Because it’s so much about our state’s right to enforce our own laws and reflect our state’s values ​​in our statutes, I think that’s what will bring people together, and I think it will ring true. also true for the House,” she said.

Baker said this month he was “absolutely open to discussing protections” for reproductive health providers, describing himself in the wake of the draft Roe decision leak as “very concerned about what that means, not both for the people of Massachusetts and for the people of other countries”. states.”

The Beyond Roe Coalition, a constellation of advocacy groups that promote abortion access, including the ACLU of Massachusetts, the Planned Parenthood Advocacy Fund of Massachusetts and Reproductive Equity Now, congratulated the Senate on its vote.

“With the Supreme Court poised to overturn Roe and other state legislatures introducing abortion bans, it is more important than ever that our state leaders ensure meaningful access to abortion, contraception and gender-affirming care for anyone who needs it,” ACLU of Massachusetts executive director Carol Rose said in a statement. “Everyone – no matter where they live or how much money they have – should have the freedom to make health care decisions for themselves and their family.”

Earnest L. Veasey