A Berkshire County synagogue is holding a public forum this weekend to discuss legislation that would expand access to abortions in Massachusetts.
Reform Temple Anshe Amunim is hosting “The ROE Act: A Call to Action Forum” in Pittsfield Sunday.
“Our denomination emphasizes the importance of social justice and being involved in our community, and we felt especially with this issue on reproductive rights, it was important to be a public voice for faith," Rabbi Liz Hirsch told WAMC. “The reform movement emphasizes a core value of k’vod ha brit, which is respect for the individual, and we think that this piece of legislation in particular emphasizes an individual’s right to make their own choices and have access to the reproductive care they need.”
“The ROE Act is a really visionary piece of legislation pending in the Massachusetts legislature that would not only put the right to abortion in state law, but it would also expand abortion access – really making Massachusetts a healthier and more equitable place for people,” said Rebecca Hart Holder, the executive director of National Abortion Rights Action League Pro-Choice Massachusetts. She says the ROE Act was created in reaction to the increasingly conservative makeup of the Supreme Court.
“We decided after the confirmation of Justice Kavanaugh that the writing on the wall was that abortion access was about to be limited nationwide," Holder told WAMC. "He was an anti-choice appointment to the Supreme Court, and we really felt like this was a unique time for Massachusetts to abortion access and expanding care.”
She says that the ROE Act would make two major changes to the commonwealth’s abortion laws.
“Massachusetts currently has a ban on abortion care after 24 weeks of pregnancy unless there’s a risk to the life or health of the pregnant person," said Holder. "But there’s no exception for families that face a devastating lethal diagnosis, and if they elect abortion care when facing that horrible trauma, they have to leave the state for that care. Typically they have to fly across the country. It is tens of thousands of dollars out of pocket for them. They are away from their family, their community, their faith community, their support network, and we really believe this has to change.”
The other change would remove the requirement for minors in Massachusetts to have the consent of a parent or guardian to receive an abortion. Holder says that while many young people in the state can count on that kind of support, those who don’t face steep barriers to care.
“For the 23% that can’t, they have to go through what’s called a judicial bypass process – which means going before a judge to get the approval to get abortion care," she said. "Those are people who disproportionately come from low-income communities and who come from communities of color. They often face violence in the home. There’s the threat of getting kicked out, and there are good reasons why they are not able to discuss an unintended pregnancy with a parent or guardian. We think it’s unjust to put teens through the judicial bypass process. We believe that personal medical decisions should stay in the exam room and should not be in the court room.”
Both iterations of the bill before the Massachusetts State Legislature have overwhelming support from lawmakers, with Berkshire leaders like State Senator Adam Hinds and State Representatives Smitty Pignatelli, John Barrett, and Paul Mark – all Democrats – signed on as petitioners. The only Berkshire legislator to not endorse the bill is fellow Democratic Representative Tricia Farley-Bouvier of the 3rd Berkshire District, whose office told WAMC that she could not comment on this story in time for broadcast. Republican Governor Charlie Baker has repeatedly expressed his opposition to the legislation. It has been condemned by Catholic leaders in the state, who referred to it as an “egregious attack on human life" that “society cannot now accept” in a statement released jointly by the Roman Catholic Bishops of the four Dioceses of Massachusetts.
“The ROE Act: A Call to Action Forum” event is scheduled to start at 2 p.m. at Temple Anshe Amunim in Pittsfield Sunday.