Legislative challenges loom on Beacon Hill

BOSTON -- Abortion activists filed legislation just days into the new legislative session to ensure that abortion up to birth remains legal in Massachusetts even if a U.S. Supreme Court ruling restricts it in the future.

They also reintroduced a bill that would mandate a radical K-12 sex education program for the state’s 1 million public school children. Another proposal would choke off federal funding of abstinence-only programs.

Emboldened by the support of Gov. Deval Patrick, the Coalition for Choice hosted a Jan. 8 Statehouse strategy session and signing ceremony to publicize the bills. The coalition includes NARAL Pro-Choice Massachusetts and is headed by Angus McQuilken, vice president for public affairs for Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts, according to a Statehouse News Service report.

“They’re going for the jugular,” Marie Sturgis, executive director of Massachusetts Citizens for Life, said in an interview.

Nearly 25,000 abortions were reported to the state Department of Public Health in 2004.

Attorney Philip D. Moran, president of the Pro Life Legal Defense Fund, said that in Massachusetts (as in all states since the 1973 landmark Roe vs. Wade and Doe vs. Bolton court cases), a woman can legally abort her unborn but viable child up to birth. States can technically regulate the procedure, but restrictions have been challenged and aren’t necessarily enforced.

Such is the case in Massachusetts, Moran said, where a 1974 law still on the books would require second and third trimester abortions to be done in hospitals with surgical facilities.

But a bill sponsored by Sen. Harriette Chandler of Worcester and Rep. Ellen Story of Amherst would repeal both that law and an earlier ban on all abortions. A NARAL fact sheet calls the move a hedge against any future U.S. Supreme Court “restrictions on choice.”

The bills were filed by Jan. 10 and will be sent to committees within a month.

Sex education would come under a health bill that reintroduces legislation that died in committee last year after being vigorously opposed by Massachusetts Citizens for Life and concerned parents and pro-family groups statewide. Sponsored by Sen. Edward Augustus of Worcester and Rep. Alice Wolf of Cambridge, the bill would mandate lessons on homosexuality and human reproduction as elements of a core health curriculum from pre-kindergarten to grade 12.

Opponents of the proposed Massachusetts Comprehensive Health Curriculum Frameworks protested last year that the sexuality component would usurp parents’ rights to present these issues within a moral context.

Planned Parenthood’s McQuilken said that a lobbying group called the Coalition Advocating Responsible Education for Youth is pushing the resurrected bill. Among members listed on its Web site are: the ACLU, Massachusetts Teachers Association, National Organization for Women, Boston College Women’s Health Initiative, and Massachusetts Gay and Lesbian Political Caucus.

Another act sponsored by Rep. Ruth Balser of Newton would ban any state agency or political subdivision from applying for federal grants to teach abstinence-only education. Last year Massachusetts received $800,000 in such federal funding.

Larry Cirignano, executive director of Boston-based Catholic Citizenship, said people must organize to oppose this agenda. “We need people in every parish to help,” he said, noting that opponents are well-funded, backed by national groups, and use paid full-time staff.

And another assault against human life is looming with a predicted attempt to allow human embryo farming for stem-cell research, Sturgis warned.

When the Massachusetts Legislature passed a May 2005 law to allow “somatic cell nuclear transfer” (cloning) for stem-cell research, it redefined in law that life “begins” at 14 days or implantation, instead of the moment of conception.

However, the law’s language still prohibits scientists from setting up embryo “farms” or from importing embryos or stem-cell lines from other states.

But under a bill filed last year by Sen. Cynthia Creem of Newton, and expected to return this session, this regulation would be thwarted and a “gateway for human embryo farming” would open, Sturgis wrote in the winter issue of MCFL News.

Sturgis urged people to contact legislators to oppose this measure. “The present legal restrictions must stay on the books because human beings are not a product of the state or a commodity for scientists to play with,” she wrote.

On the positive side, at least one pro-life bill was re-introduced for MCFL this session.

The Woman’s Right to Know Bill, sponsored by Rep. Elizabeth Poirier of Attleborough and Rep. Michael Knapik of Westfield, would give a woman considering abortion the right to know its medical risks, its alternatives, and medical facts about her unborn child’s development.

“Pro-choice” groups have opposed similar informed choice laws, but thousands of lives are saved each year in states that have such legislation.

To locate a local chapter of Massachusetts Citizens for Life, call 617-242-4199; for Catholic Citizenship, call 617-755-7668. State legislators can be reached at 617-722-2000 for the House of Representatives and 617-722-1246 for the Senate.