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BOSTON -- Lawmakers heard hours of testimonies from dozens of people, including a representative of the Catholic Church, about controversial bills that would expand abortion rights in Massachusetts.
If signed into law in their current forms, bills S. 1209 and H. 3320, collectively known as the ROE Act, would expand permissible cases for late-term abortions and allow those types of abortions to be carried out in non-hospital settings.
Additionally, the bills would eliminate the requirement that minors get parental consent to have an abortion.
During the hearing, held June 17 at the State House, the Legislature's Joint Committee on the Judiciary heard testimonies from both supporters and opponents of the bill. Hundreds of people attended the hearing, filling the auditorium and two overflow areas.
From afar, the crowds looked like a sea of red and pink -- red to support pro-life, and pink to support pro-choice.
Among those who testified in opposition of the bills were doctors, nurses, officials from Massachusetts Citizens for Life, and some lawmakers.
James Driscoll, executive director of the Massachusetts Catholic Conference (MCC), the public policy arm of the Catholic Church in the Commonwealth, testified on behalf of the four bishops of Massachusetts.
"The Catholic Church has always upheld the dignity of human life," said Driscoll.
He said the bill would "gut" safeguards in place for late-term abortions -- in the state, abortions after 24 weeks -- and would be harmful to women and their unborn babies.
Two doctors and a neonatal nurse practitioner testified alongside Driscoll.
The bills "lower the current medical standard of reproductive healthcare," Dr. Ellen Johnson, a practicing radiologist, said.
They "effectively legalize abortion in the third-trimester pregnancy for virtually any reason."
Opponents have argued that language in the bill is too vague, and could potentially allow an expectant mother to have an abortion after 24 weeks, when a baby is around 50 percent viable outside of the womb, for virtually any reason.
A physician may perform an abortion after 24 weeks if "the abortion is necessary to protect the patient's life or physical or mental health, or in cases of lethal fetal anomalies, or where the fetus is incompatible with sustained life outside the uterus," Bill S.1209 reads.
Opponents during the hearing mostly pointed to the ambiguous "physical or mental health" wording, while supporters were careful to only talk about if the fetus would be incompatible with life outside the womb.
Among the testifying supporters were also several doctors, nurses, and healthcare professionals, as well as a representative from Planned Parenthood, a representative from the ACLU, Attorney General Maura Healey, and numerous lawmakers.
"Roe v. Wade is at it's greatest risk," Healey said, referencing the conservative majority in the Supreme Court.
The ROE Act would cauterise the intentions of the federal law into state law, allowing the state to perform abortions even if Roe v. Wade is overturned.
"We will do everything to ensure abortion is safe, legal and accessible to all women in Massachusetts," she said.
"This bill will also protect the health, safety, and privacy of young women," she continued.
Opponents have argued the opposite -- that by eliminating the need for parental consent, minors might instead be making a significant decision on their own when they might be too young to understand the implications of it.
Supporters, meanwhile, pointed to current state laws that allow minors to obtain pregnancy care, including a C-section, without parental consent.
Marianne Luthin, director of the Archdiocese of Boston's Pro-Life Office, attended the hearing but did not testify.
She told The Pilot following the event that it was clear that committee members wanted to learn more about the issues in the bills.
"All sides had good and probing questions to both proponents and opponents," she said.
The bills, as written now, "go too far in expanding abortion rights, even beyond Roe v. Wade," she said, adding that she believes that people are starting to understand that.
Nationally, minors generally need consent from parents to have an abortion, and late-term abortions are largely banned.
The bills may have a difficult time passing -- Republican lawmakers have been against the ROE Act, including Gov. Charlie Baker.
Whether it passes or not, the Archdiocese of Boston will remain "totally committed in word, deed and financial resources to supporting women either facing difficult pregnancies or seeking support after having had abortions through our Pregnancy Help and Project Rachel ministries," Luthin said.