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The teenager was only 15 years old and was recovering from rape when she realized she was pregnant. This young woman, whom NPR agreed not to name, says she knew immediately that she wanted to terminate the pregnancy. But, like many states, Massachusetts demanded, and still requires, that minors obtain parental consent before obtaining an abortion.
"I knew I could not tell my mother or my immediate relatives," she says, "because my pregnancy was the result of a sexual assault by a family friend." His home, he adds, "was not necessarily safe or healthy at that time."
Then, the 15-year-old girl sought her only legal alternative: obtain permission for a state judge's procedure. She remembers looking at a man who never made eye contact with her during her brief conversation about grades and if she played sports. She says the judge never asked about the assault or her planned abortion.
"And then, just before I left, he encouraged me to think more next time, before having sex," he recalls. "That was hard to hear."
The judge issued an order granting your request. But the additional time it took to get that permission pushed the 15-year-old girl beyond the point that would allow her to take pills to induce an abortion. Research shows that going to court generally takes six months for an abortion for minors in Massachusetts, delays that are more common among low-income and non-white teenagers.
Then, instead of a medical abortion, he had to undergo a more invasive surgical procedure. But that is not what weighs much on the young woman, who is now 23 years old, has a master's degree and works for a non-profit organization in Boston.
"The feeling I had, seeing the judge and those last words he told me about being & # 39; more responsible & # 39;", is what has stayed with her.
The required parental consent is one of the main reasons why Massachusetts, often seen as a bastion of liberal laws, only gets a "C" rating for abortion access from a group of abortion rights. Now, there is an ongoing and vigorous debate in Massachusetts about whether to maintain or eliminate this restriction.
It is part of a broader process, in which both supporters of the right to abortion and groups opposing abortion are reexamining, and often changing, state-level policies following the rise of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court from the USA UU. In 2018. Both sides believe Kavanaugh's appointment could lead to Roe v. Wade being revoked, which would mean that the power to determine abortion policy would return to the states.
Opponents of abortion rights say that when minors seek abortion, having a parent or judge involved is supposed to help protect vulnerable adolescents, such as the 15-year-old girl who was raped. (That young woman says she always assumed that her lawyer told the judge how she got pregnant, but she can't be sure.)
"In our laws, we must do everything we can, especially given the type of epidemic abuse we face, to disrupt that cycle," says David Franks, chairman of the Massachusetts Citizens anti-abortion group board. for life.
And demanding parental consent works to reduce procedures, say these opponents of abortion rights. The restriction has prevented at least 10,000 abortions since it was enacted in Massachusetts, according to calculations by Michael New, a visiting professor at the Catholic University of America. That takes into account the hundreds of teenagers in Massachusetts who travel to neighboring states every year where parental consent for minors is not required. New says Massachusetts residents have traditionally backed some abortion limits for teenagers.
"Even in these more & # 39; liberal states & # 39 ;, some of the existing pro-life laws still enjoy a lot of support," says New. "I think most people feel uncomfortable with the younger girls they get abortions without the knowledge of their parents. "
Still, a survey conducted last summer found that a plurality of Massachusetts voters are in favor of letting minors decide on their own.
Eliminating parental consent is one of the key elements in a bill called the "Roe Law" that is pending in the Massachusetts legislature. It would also allow abortions in the third trimester, if a doctor diagnoses a fatal fetal condition, and, in anticipation of a post-Roe world, would establish the right to abortion in state law.
The bill's sponsor, State Sen. Harriette Chandler, argues that abortion is more widely accepted these days as general medical care. Chandler, 82, remembers when he wasn't.
"I think if people realize what a post-Roe it would be the world, that would make it even more reasonable to make this bill, "says Chandler.
Your proposed legislation is still in commission, and your final destination is unclear. Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker, a Republican, says he generally supports access to abortion, but not the expansions proposed by Chandler to state law.
Massachusetts, a strongly Catholic state, was one of the first to approve limits to legal abortions in the 1970s, including parental consent for minors. Another twenty-five states enforce a similar law for minors. No state has repealed the restriction.
"It has really been difficult to repeal barriers across the country," says Rebecca Hart Holder, executive director of the abortion rights group NARAL Massachusetts. "This is a time for us to remove that narrative and say that those barriers are not acceptable."
The possibility of eroding or overturning Roe v. Wade It is unleashing a series of legislative actions in states across the country. The Guttmacher Institute, which supports abortion rights, says that 17 states have approved abortion restrictions or bans this year, compared to 9 states that have confirmed or expanded access to abortion.
The recent fever in many states to restrict abortion rights is part of what drives Chandler: "We are going in a different direction than the rest of the country," she says.
That reaction has also occurred in other left-leaning states, according to Guttmacher state affairs manager Elizabeth Nash. The growing focus on abortion began in late 2018, says Nash, when Kavanaugh's arrival at the Supreme Court created a conservative five-member majority. Prior to that, access to abortion was not an urgent priority among liberals.
"People felt they were fine," Nash explains, "that their condition was safe because they were not seeing the same type of attacks as, perhaps, in states like Texas or Louisiana."
In Massachusetts, opponents of the right to abortion are pushing to dilute or defeat the Roe Act and then focus on their long-term goal: a state constitutional amendment to limit abortions.
Meanwhile, supporters of abortion rights say that the passage of the Roe Act would help Massachusetts strengthen its commitment to access to abortion and become a legislative refuge for women who cannot get abortions in other states. With that message, they have stepped up fundraising requests with the request that even more women will need help with abortions in a period afterRoe future.
This story is part of a report association that includes WBUR, NPR and Kaiser Health News.