Massachusetts passes 'NASTY Women' abortion act

The "Negating Archaic Statutes Targeting Young Women Act," or "NASTY Women Act'' repealed several archaic and unenforced Massachusetts laws limited access to abortion and contraception. Shutterstock photo

BOSTON -- Massachusetts lawmakers have passed new legislation that would ensure abortion remains legal in the state should the Supreme Court ever overturn Roe v. Wade. The full title of the bill is the "Negating Archaic Statutes Targeting Young Women Act," but has been shortened to the "NASTY Women Act."

The bill overturns an 1845 law that made "procuring a miscarriage" illegal. That law, and other similar laws in other states, were rendered null after the Supreme Court found a constitutional right to abortion in its decision in Roe v. Wade.

Laws outlawing abortion remain on the books in several states. Abortion advocates fear that, should the Supreme Court reverse itself, they would come back in to force automatically.

The title of the bill is a reference to a comment made by then-candidate Donald Trump during a presidential candidates debate on Oct. 19, 2016. Trump referred to Hillary Clinton as a "nasty woman," and the phrase then became a rallying cry among some female Clinton supporters.

Clinton carried the state of Massachusetts by 27 points during the 2016 presidential election.

The state legislature, where Democrats hold a two-thirds majority in both houses, passed the NASTY Women Act by a wide margin.

Massachusetts is the first state to move to preserve abortion access in the event of a Supreme Court reversal of cases like Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey. If those decisions were overturned, states would again be free to make their own laws regarding abortion, including banning the procedure outright.

The quick passage of the bill was "not surprising, but disappointing," said James Driscoll, director of the Catholic Conference of Massachusetts.

Driscoll told CNA he found it interesting that the nearly two-centuries year old law prohibiting abortion in the state had remained on the books. He identified Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy's retirement as the motivation to pass the bill.

"I just think it's something no one paid attention to until the whole Supreme Court vacancy opened up. It seemed to have gained steam through there."

In June, Kennedy announced he would be retiring from the Supreme Court, effective July 31. President Donald Trump has since nominated District of Columbia Court of Appeals Judge Brett Kavanaugh to fill the vacancy.

Kavanaugh's nomination was cheered by pro-life groups, who are hopeful that he could form part of a majority in favor of overturning Roe, should a suitable case come before the court. Kavanaugh has 12 years' experience as an appellate court judge, is a father of two, a practicing Catholic, and a graduate of Yale University.

Massachusetts law presently requires that a parent or guardian consent for a minor to have an abortion. A state law prohibiting protests and prayer vigils within a 35-foot "buffer zone" of an abortion facility was unanimously struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2014.

Republican Gov. Charlie Baker is expected to sign the bill into law.

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