In the midst of the national conversation about reproductive rights, the Somerville City Council sponsored a resolution on Sept. 23 calling on Congress to pass the Women’s Health Protection Act.
The current legal battle revolves around Senate Bill 8, also known as the Texas Heartbeat Act, which bans most abortions after six weeks of pregnancy without exceptions for victims of rape or incest.
After abortion rights advocates challenged the new law on the grounds that it was unconstitutional, the Supreme Court refused to block the law in a Sept. 1 decision.
In response, the House of Representatives passed the WHPA on Sept. 24. Introduced by Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley, who represents District 7 of Massachusetts, the bill would halt state laws that impose burdensome restrictions on abortion services.
The WHPA would federally standardize abortion access rather than rely on the courts to uphold the precedent set in Roe v. Wade. The bill currently has 48 cosponsors in the Senate but needs 60 votes to pass a filibuster.
A federal judge temporarily put a hold on the Texas law on Oct. 6 to allow for legal challenges to complete, a hold which was lifted by a U.S. appeals court on Oct. 14. However, Texas is not the only state to restrict abortion access — politicians have introduced nearly 500 laws on the state level to limit access. The constitutionality of a Mississippi law banning most abortions after 15 weeks will be discussed in this term of the Supreme Court.
Kristen Strezo, councilor at-large for the Somerville City Council, introduced a resolution calling on Congress to pass the WHPA on Sept. 23. The resolution passed unanimously, with notable support from Ben Ewen-Campen, city councilor for Ward 3.
A resolution at the municipal level is a means for the local government to issue an official statement and oftentimes urge the city, state or nation to take action.
“This is … about using the position that we have as elected officials to voice outrage that abortion rights were just stripped away in the middle of the night on the shadow docket,” Ewen-Campen said.
As an advocate for women’s reproductive rights for more than 20 years, Strezo was inspired to introduce this resolution because she believes that there is much she can do in her position at a municipal level.
“I’m committed to … making sure that my constituents, those that I’m honored to serve, that I’m making sure that I’m enhancing their lives and protecting their rights to choose,” Strezo said.
By passing a resolution, the Somerville City Council is setting an example for other municipal offices and acknowledging the Texas law, according to Ewen-Campen.
“We are all in this together, and an injury to one is an injury to all,” Ewen-Campen said. “Clearly, the law in Texas was intended to be part of a national far-right, extreme movement against abortion rights.”
This is not the first resolution Strezo has introduced on abortion access: Strezo also put forth a resolution in support of the ROE Act. Passed in December 2020, the ROE Act is a Massachusetts law that expands abortion access beyond 24 weeks in the case of harm to the physical or mental health of the pregnant individual and lowers the age of abortion without parental consent from 18 years to 16 years.
The resolution in support of the ROE Act was sent to Gov. Charlie Baker urging the law to be passed and affirming the act’s widespread support.
“I believe that there is so much … that I can do to protect my constituents at a municipal level and I’m committed to doing that,” Strezo said.
Sabrina Rangwani, co-president of Tufts Students for National Abortion Rights Action League (NARAL), a pro-choice organization that advocates for reproductive rights, spoke on the importance of passing WHPA and preventing legislation similar to the Texas law from being enacted in Mississippi, Missouri and other southern states.
“I just think that it’s important that the Tufts community doesn’t get too comfortable in their protected abortion rights at this point,” Rangwani, a sophomore, said. “I think a lot of the focus has been on Texas, but there are other states in the South that are going to benefit from [WHPA] if it’s passed.”
Beyond abortion access, Strezo has also put forth a resolution in support of the I AM bill, a policy which would provide free menstrual products in prisons, homeless shelters and public schools. Strezo also put forth the Proclamation for Women’s Advancement, Equity, and Opportunity which acknowledges that the pandemic disproportionately affected women in terms of economic loss and seeks to rebuild through additional childcare options, mentorship opportunities and apprenticeship programs at the municipal level.
Strezo stated she has been advocating for reproductive justice for years, attending marches, writing articles and even singing in a feminist punk band. As a single mother on the Somerville City Council, this advocacy is a no-brainer to her.
“None of us are free until we can make decisions on our own bodies,” Strezo said. “This is feminist work.”