BOSTON (SHNS) – After a federal judge in Texas suspended FDA approval of abortion pill mifepristone, Gov. Maura Healey issued an executive order on Monday that is meant to clarify that a state law passed last year to protect abortion access from out-of-state prosecution extends to the pills as well.
The governor’s office also announced that at Healey’s request, the University of Massachusetts Amherst ordered 15,000 doses of mifepristone last week, to arrive in the Bay State this week, to stockpile in event of a shortage. The university will distribute the mifepristone pills to providers and should “ensure sufficient coverage in the state for more than a year.”
The University of Massachusetts was founded as a “land grant institution,” UMass President Marty Meehan said at the press conference, and therefore has a “service mission” to “improve the lives of the people of Massachusetts.”
“Throughout our history, the university has on occasion been asked to mobilize its resources to address a critical need in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Most recently, it was during the COVID-19 pandemic, when we erected field hospitals and vaccine clinics and sent medical personnel to the frontlines of that crucial effort. Last week, Gov. Healey called upon UMass Amherst to mobilize — this time to help protect safe and legal medical abortions for women in Massachusetts. I applaud the Governor and her administration for the swift, decisive action,” he said.
Healey’s announcement comes after Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk invalidated the Federal Drug Administration’s authorization of the abortion pill on Friday. The pill had been legally on the market for 23 years. A federal judge in Washington issued a conflicting ruling later that day, saying the FDA should do nothing to restrict access to the drug.
Healthcare providers have also “agreed to purchase additional quantities to make available for patients” and the “Healey-Driscoll Administration is also dedicating $1 million to support providers contracted with the Department of Public Health in paying for these doses.”
“With this stockpiled supply of mifepristone, our providers can continue to offer the gold standard of medication abortion care to thousands of people throughout the state, regardless of what a judge in Texas says,” said Reproductive Equity Now President Rebecca Hart Holder. “Today, Massachusetts is sending a clear message that we will fight back against attempts to reach across our borders and restrict access to care.”
After the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade last year in what is known as the Dobbs decision, state lawmakers passed a sweeping reproductive health law that created a legal shield for patients and providers pursuing abortion care, who could face lawsuits originating in other states where Republican-led legislatures are cracking down on access to abortions.
The governor’s executive order, which she announced outside the State House flanked by other women politicians, is intended to confirm that the 2022 shield law should be interpreted as protecting access to medication abortion, including mifepristone, and protects providers and patients from criminal and civil liability.
It also instructs the Department of Public Health and Division of Insurance to issue guidance to help implement the order and requires the DPH to provide support to public universities to expedite the development and implementation of their medication abortion readiness plans.
“Nearly 10 months ago today we stood in this exact same spot following the Supreme Court’s terrible decision in Dobbs … we warned you that this was the start because extremist anti-abortion activists and politicians have been working at this for decades, trying to at every turn chip away at women’s freedom and our reproductive rights,” Healey said to a crowd in front of the State House. “But clearly Dobbs wasn’t enough, and what you saw is a continuing step in their endless crusade to undermine medical and scientific research and expertise, to further marginalize, particularly women in this country, and to take us backward.”
Healey was joined by some of the state’s most powerful politicians, including Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Congresswomen Ayanna Pressley and Lori Trahan, Attorney General Andrea Campbell, Senate President Karen Spilka, Speaker of the House Ron Mariano, Boston Mayor Michelle Wu, and other state lawmakers.
“I just want to be clear with the people in Massachusetts, abortion medication will remain safe, legal, and accessible here in the commonwealth,” Healey said.
Wu used her time speaking to the crowd to pitch the state’s efforts to protect reproductive rights as a reason for people to move to the Bay State, amidst concerns about population decline.
“To the residents of Massachusetts and of Boston. We got your back. You are safe, you are protected. And we will always fight for you. And even more loudly to the residents of other states across the country — you can vote, we encourage and we’ll fight alongside you. But you can also move to Massachusetts,” Wu said. “To the students in high school who are making decisions right now about where to go to college, move to Massachusetts where our universities are standing shoulder to shoulder with elected leadership and fighting for you and protecting you. To the companies looking to fill vacancies and seeking a workforce, move to Massachusetts where your employees will be able to care for their whole lives. To the health care professionals who swore an oath not to do harm, to save lives, and are questioning why you are in this fight alone in other states — move to Massachusetts.”
Pressley emphasized what she called a “coordinated attack” to coerce women, especially Black women, across the country to give “forced birth.”
“As a Black woman knowing full well of the Black maternal morbidity crisis, that one in four Black women die in childbirth or post birthing conditions, this is a matter of life and death,” Pressley said.
Asked later on Monday what power the state will have if the Supreme Court rules on the FDA’s approval of mifepristone, Healey replied “We have a lot of power.”
“We have a state constitution that supports time and time again — time and time again recognized a woman’s right to access an abortion,” Healey said. She later added, “With regard to whatever happens through various court proceedings, I know that we’ll be in close contact with the Attorney General’s office and we’ll take whatever steps necessary, as we have in the past, to successfully defend women’s access to needed care.”
Asked by reporters if there’s a need to codify additional abortion protection, such as today’s executive order extending the shield law to medication abortion, Senate President Karen Spilka said Massachusetts “has and will continue to stay ahead of court rulings.”
“I do believe that the Senate and House will continue to work closely and look at if there is a need to codify anything of what was either in the executive order or anything else to make sure that we protect a woman’s right for bodily autonomy and medical decisions to make in their own health care,” Spilka said.