Op-ed: Protecting reproductive rights in Massachusetts

Rep. Christine Barber (D-Somerville) gives a speech on the Massachusetts House floor on June 29. Courtesy Rep. Christine Barber.

 The Massachusetts House of Representatives voted 136–17 on a bill two weeks ago to strengthen protections for reproductive and gender-affirming care in state law. I was one of 25 women legislators who spoke in strong support of the bill. Below is an excerpt from my remarks on the House floor on Wednesday, June 29.  

“I rise in support of ‘An Act Expanding Protections for Reproductive Rights.’ 

I would like to thank the Speaker of the House for taking this bill up for a vote right after last week’s Supreme Court ruling on Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health. With so much anger and raw emotion in my community, across the commonwealth and the country, I am proud to be part of a legislature that is promptly taking significant action to protect access to basic rights and health care. 

While last Friday’s Supreme Court ruling was expected, it was still devastating. Like many of you, I am angry and scared. And I am also fueled and uplifted by the activism of so many people speaking up, gathering and protesting, and by our collective work together to make Massachusetts a safe place for reproductive rights, abortion and gender-affirming care.  

Amid all that, I feel immense pride for our work in the previous legislative session to pass the Roe Act after the death of Justice Ginsburg. The Roe Act, which codified reproductive rights in Massachusetts state law, provides some amount of solace to people in my community who are terrified that our rights are being taken away. 

Since Friday, I have spoken with local doctors who live and practice in my district who are fearful about their ability to safely practice family medicine. I’ve spoken to many constituents who feel like they don’t know the country they live in and feel an urgency for any protections that we can provide for residents of Massachusetts and people in other states.   

Restricting access to abortion care and reproductive services exacerbates racial, gender and economic inequality. For BIPOC and low-income individuals, the loss of reproductive care will have even harsher consequences. Black maternal and infant mortality rates are already disproportionately higher. Recent studies show that denying abortion care nationally will increase pregnancy-related deaths by 7% this year and by 21% in subsequent years.  

 We are responding to many of those concerns today.  

The bill before us will do so much provide these protections:   

  • Safeguard Massachusetts residents, as well as patients who travel here for care;     
  • Protect health care providers who deliver care that is restricted in other states and ensure providers’ licenses will not be threatened for reproductive and gender-affirming care that is legal in Massachusetts;  
  • Increase access to abortion care and reproductive health services by prohibiting co-pays and deductibles, as well as restrictions or delays in care by health insurers and MassHealth. 

We know that so many of our rights are at risk, not only reproductive care. The Supreme Court is aiming at marriage equality, contraception and protections for transgender youth. I’m proud that this House of Representatives has been a leader in each of these areas, and today we are showing that again by including a right to gender-affirming care in our state laws and protections for patients and providers for this needed care.   

At a time with so many challenges, I am grateful to be part of the House as we continue to lead and stand up to attacks on our basic rights. This action gives me hope, and I know provides hope to our constituents. Thank you for being together in this fight. 

I urge you to support this bill. Thank you.” 

Rep. Christine P. Barber (D-Somerville) serves the 34th Middlesex District, which includes parts of Medford and Somerville.   

Editor’s note: The text of Barber’s floor speech has been lightly edited for length and clarity.


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