Metro, Boston

Petition to Prevent State Funding of Abortion Approved to Advance

Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey passed a petition for a constitutional amendment, which calls to put a stop to the state-funding of abortion, on Sept. 4. The petition, filed for the third time in five years, is now one step closer to appearing on the 2022 midterm election ballot.

“It’s the first step in trying to make this state pro-life,” said Thomas Harvey, a chairman of the Massachusetts Alliance to Stop Taxpayer Funded Abortions, who spearheaded the effort.

In addition to Harvey, the initiative petition was signed by 10 people and read: “Nothing in this Constitution requires the public funding of abortion.” 

Under the Hyde Amendment, passed in 1978, federal funds cannot be used to fund abortions. A few exceptions to this amendment remain: Federal funds can be used for abortion in cases where the mother’s life is in danger, or there is an instance of rape or incest. Seventeen states currently fund abortion for low-income women, according to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). Massachusetts is one of them. 

Harvey’s initiative petition now has to get 80,239 signatures from registered voters by the first Wednesday of December in order to move further along in the process to stop the state-funding of abortions. An initiative petition must receive a number of signatures from registered voters that’s equivalent to 3 percent of the voter turnout from last election to move into the legislature.

The issue of state-funded abortion is not only a moral one—he considers himself anti-abortion—but also a fiscal one, according to Harvey. There are people that oppose abortion on moral grounds and others that just don’t want to contribute tax dollars toward the cause, he said. 

“We tried it in 2015, didn’t get enough signatures, and we tried it in 2017 and didn’t get enough signatures,” Harvey said. “So, the first step is getting enough signatures, and that’s a huge project.” 

In 2015, Harvey’s petition received over 30,000 signatures, and he received more than 57,000 his second time around in 2017. Though he still hasn’t reached his goal to move this initiative petition onto the legislature, Harvey said he is hopeful this time around. 

“We’re constantly growing and expanding our volunteer list,” Harvey said. “I expect to succeed this time, even though the number [of signatures required] is going up.” 

In  2017, Massachusetts spent a total of $5.7 million on all MassHealth—the state’s version of Medicaid—family planning services, according to The Boston Globe. MassHealth covers about 1.9 million Massachusetts residents. 

The last time Harvey tried to pass this initiative in 2017, Tricia Wajda, the director of communications for the Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts, vehemently opposed the petition. According to Wajda, the stoppage of state funding allocated toward abortions discriminates against low-income women, who may not be able to afford the procedure without the help of state aid like MassHealth. Abortions can cost $350 to $950 at health centers during the first trimester, according to Planned Parenthood.

“Every woman—regardless of her ZIP code—should have the ability to make decisions about her health and abortion without barriers,” Wajda said to the Globe in 2017. “While 17 states do provide Medicaid coverage for abortion with state dollars, many women still do not have affordable access to abortion care.”

Massachusetts briefly passed legislation in 1978 that halted the allocation of state funds toward abortion services. Then-Representative and later Mayor of Boston Raymond Flynn passed the Flynn-Doyle Bill which defunded abortion services from state coverage, according to the Globe. The initiative only lasted a few years. In 1981, the Massachusetts Supreme Court ruled that MassHealth members and all other Massachusetts women had a right to abortion, allowing abortions to be paid for by MassHealth. 

Should Harvey’s initiative get enough signatures, the petition will move onto the Legislature, where it will require the support of 25 percent of the legislators in two separate sessions.

Featured Image by Jonathan Ye / Heights Editor

September 11, 2019