President Donald Trump nominated conservative judge Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court only a few weeks ago, but states have started preparing for the potential death of Roe v. Wade. And Massachusetts just became one of the first to act on those plans.
Roe v. Wade legalized abortion nationwide in 1973, but if it’s overturned, abortion wouldn’t immediately become illegal everywhere in the United States. Instead, each state could decide how to open up or limit access to the procedure.
That possibility prompted the Massachusetts legislature on Wednesday to pass the “NASTY Women” act, which would end centuries-old law criminalizing abortion in the state. Obviously, that law hasn’t been enforced in decades. But lawmakers and abortion rights activists still worried.
“This is about making sure that regardless of what happens under the Trump administration, that the women of the Commonwealth will have access to abortion care when and if they need it,” Rebecca Hart Holder, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Massachusetts, told VICE News Tuesday, before the bill’s passage.
The Act Negating Archaic Statutes Targeting Young Women — colloquially known as the NASTY Women bill — unanimously passed the state Senate back in January, but failed to gain any traction in the state House. On Wednesday, propelled by a rush of publicity over Kavanaugh’s nomination, the bill finally came up for a vote.
It passed by a vote of 138 to 9. The office of Republican Gov. Charlie Baker also indicated his likely support of the bill in a statement to VICE News.
“Governor Baker fully supports access to women’s health care and family planning services in the Commonwealth, supports the concept of the NASTY Women Act and will carefully review the final legislation on his desk," Deputy Press Secretary Anisha Chakrabarti said.
With the passage of the NASTY Women Act, Massachusetts becomes one of a number of states now scrambling to update its abortion laws. Since Trump announced Kavanaugh’s nomination, lawmakers in New York and New Mexico have said that they want to strengthen their states’ abortion protections. (Neither state’s legislature is currently in session.)
On the other side of the spectrum, Alabama and West Virginia both already had ballot measures to strip abortion rights from their state constitutions in the works.
“The prospect of a conversation that will have actual political effect — because it will be back in the hands of each state to have this discussion — means that we’re much more energized,” David Franks, chairman of the board for Massachusetts Citizens for Life, told VICE News earlier this week. Franks dismissed the NASTY Women Act as “cynical political theater,” since the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court already found the state’s ban on abortion unconstitutional in a 1981 court case.
The NASTY Women Act will also repeal several other old and unenforced laws, including prohibitions on unmarried people from accessing birth control and on health care providers distributing birth control.
“There hasn’t been a real urgency to clean up the laws in many states, including in Massachusetts, because it’s been inconceivable that Roe could be overturned or gutted,” Holder said. “And we are living in a new reality.”
Update 7/20 11:37 a.m.: This article has been updated with a comment from Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker's office.
Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly referred to Rebecca Hart Holder’s affiliation. She is the executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Massachusetts.
Cover image: Pat Thompson displayed a sign supporting Roe v. Wade at a rally, held by Planned Parenthood, commemorating the 45th anniversary of the landmark Supreme Court decision at the Capitol Monday, Jan. 22, 2018, in Sacramento, Calif. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)