In response to Massachusetts May Legalize Abortion Through Entire Pregnancy

In his Corner post last week, Wesley Smith rightly expressed concern about the ROE Act in Massachusetts, which would effectively expand the right to an abortion throughout all nine months of pregnancy.

Smith is correct that the ROE Act is similar to recent legislation passed in New York and Vermont, ensuring that there are no legal limits on when a woman may obtain an abortion. This past Thursday, the Massachusetts state house approved a budget bill including the ROE Act, and the state senate will be considering the legislation shortly.

But the ROE Act contains another troubling provision in addition to allowing abortion with no gestational limits: It would significantly weaken the state’s pro-life parental-involvement law. Currently, minors (girls under 18) in Massachusetts are required to receive consent from at least one parent before obtaining an abortion. The ROE Act would reduce the age of consent to 16; if the bill becomes law, 16- and 17-year-old girls could obtain abortions in Massachusetts without parental consent. Considering that a high percentage of abortions performed on minors are obtained by 16- and 17-year-olds, this should greatly concern pro-lifers.

Interestingly, in the past, Massachusetts has been a leader in terms of protecting minor girls and their unborn children. As early as 1974, the Massachusetts state legislature passed a pro-life parental-involvement law over a gubernatorial veto. Various legal challenges prevented this law from taking effect and during the 1970s, and the U.S. Supreme Court heard two separate cases involving parental-involvement legislation in Massachusetts. A revised parental-involvement law took effect in 1981, and Massachusetts became one of the first states after Roe v. Wade to require that minor girls receive parental consent before obtaining an abortion.

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A 1986 study in the American Journal of Public Health found strong statistical evidence that this parental-involvement law reduced the abortion rate among minors in Massachusetts. The study did find that some Massachusetts minors obtained abortions in neighboring states after the law took effect, but the in-state decline clearly exceeded the out-of-state increase.

The study also noted a slight increase in the birth rate among minors shortly after the parental-involvement law took effect, likely because some girls who otherwise would have obtained abortions carried their pregnancies to term. When I testified against the ROE Act in June 2019, I used findings from this study to show that, since 1981, the Massachusetts parental-involvement law has protected tens of thousands of minor girls and their unborn children.

Parental-involvement laws do a great deal of good, both in Massachusetts and across the country. Currently, 37 states have these laws in effect, and at least 16 peer-reviewed studies suggest that these laws reduce the incidence of abortion among minors.

Furthermore, research shows that these laws improve public health in other ways. A 2003 study in the Journal of Health Economics found that parental-involvement laws reduce pregnancy rates among girls ages 15 to 17. A 2008 study in the Journal of Law Economics and Organization found that parental-involvement laws lower gonorrhea rates for females under 20. Finally, a 2012 study in Economic Inquiry found that parental-involvement laws reduce the incidence of suicides for females between the ages of 15 and 17.

There is a good chance that the Massachusetts state senate will pass the budget bill that includes the ROE Act and send the legislation to Republican governor Charlie Baker. While Baker supports legal abortion, he has also expressed misgivings about the ROE Act. During previous debates over the bill, he has indicated that he supports the status quo when it comes to abortion policy in Massachusetts. Additionally, Boston.com recently reported that Baker is unhappy that a significant policy initiative was included in the budget bill, suggesting that he may not support it. Bay State pro-lifers should strongly encourage him to use the line item veto to strike down the extreme and radical ROE Act.

LifeNews Note: Michael J. New is an Associate Professor of Economics at Ave Maria University and an Associate Scholar at the Charlotte Lozier Institute. He is a former political science professor at the University of Michigan–Dearborn and holds a Ph.D. from Stanford University. He is a fellow at Witherspoon Institute in Princeton, New Jersey.

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