Activists lobby state house for sexual health issues, education

On January 17, at 10 a.m., people of all ages and gender, donned in formal attire, gathered at the Great Hall of Massachusetts State House to lobby their district representatives for greater access to reproductive rights and sexual education for youth.

Calling January 17 ‘Sexual Health Lobby Day,’ 70 organizations – including NARAL Pro-Choice Massachusetts, ACLU of Massachusetts, and Massachusetts Family Planning Association – and individual grassroot activists called for the passage of the proposed Roe Act and the Healthy Youth Act, and requested state funding for family planning services, HIV/AIDS programs, and teen pregnancy prevention programs.

Bill SD.109, An Act to Remove Obstacles and Expand Abortion Access (ROE), will be presented by Harriette L. Chandler and co-sponsored by 19 House Democrats, including Patricia A. Haddad. The bill calls for striking out Section 12L through 12U of Chapter 112 of Massachusetts General Law, inserting instead concrete wordings that “the Commonwealth shall not interfere with a person’s personal decision and ability to prevent, commence, terminate, or continue their own pregnancy consistent with this chapter,” formally enshrining abortion as a right under Massachusetts law.

Speaker Robert A. DeLeo, Speaker Pro Tempore Patricia A. Haddad, Senate President Karen E. Spilka and Senate President Emerita Harriette L. Chandler vocally supported the Coalition for Choice’s causes in a series of speeches.

“I want [my children] to grow up and live in a state where women are free to make their own choices regarding health,” said DeLeo. Rebecca Hart Holder, NARAL’s Pro-Choice Massachusetts’ Executive Director, held an award ceremony for them for protecting reproductive health care. In July of 2018, Senate President Chandler presented the NASTY (Negating Archaic Statutes Targeting Young) Women Act (Bill S.784), which abolished at 173-year-old law banning “procuring a miscarriage” and was approved by both the House and Senate.

Massachusetts Citizens for Life President Anne Fox, however, criticized the Roe Act, arguing that its provisions allow children of any age to get abortion without parental consent. Section 12M, of Bill SD.109 does give physicians greater medical judgment in performing abortion for all patients within 24 weeks and beyond when it is” necessary to protect the patient’s life,” and Section 12N mandates the pregnant person – age not specified – to sign a consent form, which “may not be released to any person other than to the pregnant person,” before the procedure. Although she acknowledged Massachusetts’ judicial bypass laws, Anne further claimed that pregnant girls are better supported when they tell their parents.

Many grass root and civil rights organizations used this opportunity to promote their activism. Nicole Mazzeo, 28, founder of Pleasure Pie, a small organization which makes alternative sexuality education materials, set up a booth with zines about sex positivity.  

“I didn’t get sex education growing up, and so when I started being interested in sex it was so confusing. After doing a lot of my own learning, I decided to share what I learned so I made them into zines,” said Mazzeo. “I was invited to table, a couple of years ago, and it’s really nice to just meet people who are interested in sexual health and share my passion for that cause.”

In light of the Trump Administration’s limitation of reproductive rights, Ryen, 25, representative of the NetworklaRed, a survivor-led organization promoting the end of partner abuse in all gender relationships, said that “what the president is doing is a disgrace to our country.” Amy Feinman, Civil Right Counsel at the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), said that this event was in line with the core mission of the ADL, but also noted that it was a “tragedy that people had to lobby for people’s rights.” However, she expressed hope, referring to the approved Massachusetts Question 3, Gender Identity Anti-Discrimination Veto Referendum.