BOSTON (AP) — Massachusetts on Friday became the first state since President Donald Trump nominated Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court to abolish from its books an abortion ban that predates the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling.
Gov. Charlie Baker, a Republican who supports abortion rights, signed a bill Friday that repeals the unenforced ban with roots dating to 1845, along with other archaic statutes that prohibited unmarried women from using contraceptives, and made adultery and fornication criminal offenses.
Baker called the laws “antiquated, inappropriate,” and in some cases, harmful.
“Here in Massachusetts, we will not compromise on a woman’s right to her own decisions,” he said.
Abortion rights proponents fear Kavanaugh, whose nomination to replace Anthony Kennedy on the high court is pending before the U.S. Senate, could if confirmed tilt the court toward undoing abortion protections in place since Roe v. Wade, thereby potentially triggering old state laws that haven’t been enforced in decades.
“For years, Justice Kennedy has held together a delicate balance on the Supreme Court protecting access to abortion and the fundamental ability of women to control their lives,” said Rebecca Hart Holder, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Massachusetts. “The lawsuits necessary to overturn Roe are making their way through the courts right now.”
Seventeen states already have laws that could be used to restrict the legal status of abortions if Roe was overturned or severely limited. Of those, Massachusetts was among 10 states that still had pre-Roe abortion bans on the books, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a national research group that supports abortion rights.
Nine states have laws specifically protecting abortion rights, the institute said.
While not among the states listed as having pre-Roe v. Wade bans on the books, the Democratic governors of New York and Rhode Island have asked lawmakers in their states to vote on legislation codifying abortion rights in light of the potential shift in the Supreme Court.
In Massachusetts, a 1981 ruling by the state’s highest court protects access to abortion, leading some critics of the so-called NASTY bill — short for Negating Archaic Statutes Targeting Young Women — to question why the action was necessary. Backers said they didn’t want to take any chances.
“With an uncertain future in terms of federal action on these issues, it’s up to the states,” said House Speaker Robert DeLeo, a Democrat.
Baker was among only three Republican governors who did not sign on to a letter sent to Senate leaders earlier this week in support of Kavanaugh’s nomination.
Baker stopped short on Friday of saying he outright opposed Kavanaugh, saying he would hold off on that judgment at least until after the Senate holds hearings on the nomination.
This story has been corrected to show Hart Holder’s title is executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Massachusetts, not Massachusetts’ executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice America.