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Massachusetts Senate overturns archaic laws concerning women’s health

The Massachusetts Senate unanimously passed a bill Thursday opposing outdated statutes affecting a woman’s right to access contraceptives and abortion. It is now awaiting approval in the House of Representatives and for Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker to sign it into law.

The bill, titled “An Act Negating Archaic Statutes Targeting Young Women,” dubbed the “NASTY Women Act,” was sponsored by Acting Senate President Harriette Chandler. The laws were previously overturned by both the state and federal courts so they couldn’t be used in practice, but they were still written in law in Massachusetts.

The revision rescinds laws like 19th century sanctions on abortions, a law stating that an unmarried woman cannot use contraceptives, and a requirement that all non-emergent abortions after the 12th week of pregnancy by implemented in a hospital, according to a press release from Chandler’s office.

Kevin Connor, the press secretary for Chandler, wrote in email that members of the Senate pushed for the act as discussions involving the deduction of Roe v. Wade surfaced.

“With the talk of repealing Roe v. Wade by Senate Republicans and influential conservatives, we need to ensure that these laws are off the books permanently so that there is no possibility that they can be used in the future,” Connor wrote. “But what is also just as important is the message that passing this legislation sends to the rest of the nation: Massachusetts stands for women’s rights and for progress.”

Reginald Stewart, 61, of Dorchester, said though the repeal is somewhat emblematic, he’s glad it was enacted.

“I find it strange that these laws haven’t been changed until now, so I’m glad they finally did it, whether its symbolic or not,” Stewart said. “Women’s issues like abortion are very important, and women should be able to get what they need.”

Massachusetts Sen. Cynthia Creem wrote in an email that the bill was rescinded not only to prevent it from resurfacing, but to also serve as a symbol for women’s rights.  

“Any law that remains on the books is susceptible to being resurrected at some future date,” Creem wrote. “By voting unanimously in the Senate to remove these criminal statutes, we are taking a stand against future encroachments into a woman’s right to decide for herself on her health and reproductive care, without government interference.”

The label “NASTY Women Act” derived from President Donald Trump’s use of the phrase when he was campaigning in 2017, Creem wrote.

“It came from a quote from candidate Donald Trump, who called his Presidential campaign opponent, Hillary Clinton, a ‘nasty woman,’” Creem wrote. “I think the bill is a rebuttal to the ways that condescending and sexist terminology can sometimes define women’s issues and disparage important rights like women’s health care, and the right to choose.

Sen. William Brownsberger wrote in an email that the bill “protects the right to choose.” He wrote there is concern, hence why the bill was proposed, that federal court rulings could change and make women in Massachusetts be exposed to the full extent of the archaic laws as they were written.

Virginia Sapiro, a professor of political science at Boston University, said this act is vital to protect women against future Supreme Court modifications.

“I think it’s extremely important for those who believe that women should have reproductive rights,” Sapiro said. “If the Supreme Court decision goes away, these kinds of laws which would interfere with women’s reproductive rights will have force again.”

Johannaliz Torres, 42, of South Boston, said the act suggests Massachusetts cares about women’s issues.

“Even though it seems these old laws weren’t being put to actually use, it’s still important for women all around the state and it shows that Massachusetts knows about these problems,” Torres said. “All of these little steps can make a difference in the long run.”

Zhi Lin, 32, of South Boston, said though the act doesn’t fully solve the issue, it’s a step in the right direction.

“I honestly think this act is historical,” Lin said. “People may never look back at 2018 as the year that things changed for women’s rights, but it’s still a stride toward equality for all genders.”

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