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BRAINTREE -- A proposed bill in the Massachusetts Statehouse -- designed to inform pregnant women about resources for their unborn children and the effects of an abortion -- could use help from voters to move it forward.
The Massachusetts Catholic Conference (MCC), the public policy arm of the state's Catholic bishops, recently issued an email alert for members to take action in regards to House Bill 482 known as "Laura's Law" or the "Woman's Right to Know Act."
The alert outlined a brief four step action plan for people to express their support of the bill and included details on how to contact their state senators and representatives.
Sponsored by Rep. Elizabeth Poirier (R- North Attleboro) and 39 other legislators, the bill would ensure that women seeking an abortion would receive a breadth of written information before the scheduled procedure. A pamphlet and website would be produced by the state and provided to the pregnant woman by the referring physician, the abortion practitioner, or agent of the practitioner.
Except in cases of a medical emergency that would result in a woman's death or "irreversible impairment of a major bodily function," pregnant women would get 24 hours to consider the information before signing a consent form to have the abortion.
"We're simply asking that the Department of Public Health issue an unbiased pamphlet that just tells women what the procedure entails, what the possible effects are, and just gives them some information, which we do for piercing ears for heaven's sake," said Poirier.
The information would include a list of medical and financial resources available for women choosing to carry the baby to term, adoption services, detailed anatomical descriptions of the unborn child throughout the pregnancy, descriptions of the different methods of abortion and risks associated with each, description of a delivery and its risks, and details about a father's obligations if the child is born alive.
In addition, the bill would require that a physician or physician's agent be required to ask the woman if she has seen the information and allow her the opportunity to contact alternative agencies if she wishes. This would include telling her that she has a right to see a real-time ultrasound image of her child and to hear its heartbeat, a right also mentioned in the pamphlet.
According to Poirier, the bill has received constituent support from across the commonwealth. It has bi-partisan support from legislators with 23 Republicans and 17 Democrats representatives signing on for sponsorship.
James Driscoll, Executive Director of the MCC, would like Massachusetts to be in the group of around 30 other states that have similar informed consent laws.
The bill was given the additional name of "Laura's Law" at the request of Eileen Smith, the mother of 22 year old Laura Hope Smith. Laura died in 2007 after an abortion at a clinic in Hyannis.
The practitioner in the case, Rapin Osathanondh, plead guilty to manslaughter last September and received a six month jail sentence with eligibility for parole after three months.
Currently, the bill is in the Joint Committee of the Judiciary on Beacon Hill after its hearing on June 8.
A portion of the MCC testimony from Driscoll submitted for the hearing stated, "It would reinforce every woman's right to know the complete facts about an invasive medial procedure prior to its execution on her body. Additionally, the bill would ensure that all clients have access to professionals that can offer a second or third opinion, prior to their surgery. The bill simply requires industries that profit from abortion to first offer their patients information about all the known consequences and side effects that may occur during or after an abortion."
The MCC testimony also cited that Massachusetts currently only requires an abortion provider to inform a woman that "the contents of the womb (uterus) are removed" in regards to an abortion.
Anne Fox, president of Massachusetts Citizens For Life (MCFL), said that citizen involvement will help the bill's progress in the statehouse. MCFL is the primary drafter of the bill, versions of which have been around for some years.
Fox said many in the public do not support abortion on demand but are also not active in the pro-life movement.
"Most of them are really pro-life, but they don't think about it," said Fox. Instead, they are concerned about other matters such as taxes or their children's grades, she said.
Poirier concurred that there are a large group of people who have not been vocal in their viewpoints.
"Pressure from the public is very powerful and in cases such as this kind of a bill we have a tremendously supportive silent majority, but they do not voice their opinion and that's what hurts us each and every time," said Poirier.
In addition to contacting their representatives, the MCC email alert also encouraged supporters to email Sen. Cynthia Creem and Rep. Gene O'Flaherty who serve as joint chairs of the Judiciary Committee.
Poirier said that the greater the number of people who act in support of this bill, the better. She encouraged supporters to call, email, and send letters to their legislators and that action is needed every step of the way in the bill's potential passage to law.
Supporters of "Laura's Law" hope for a favorable report out of the judiciary committee, another favorable review in a possible stop at a Ways and Means Committee, an approval of the Speaker of the House to call the bill for debate, passage in the House through a majority vote, passage in the Senate with a majority vote, and then for Governor Deval Patrick to sign the bill into law.
Even if the bill does not become law in this version, Fox believes that every time abortion is brought to the attention of the public, it helps the pro-life cause.
"Abortion just isn't on their radar and once it's put there, they're against it. So anything that puts it there, we benefit," said Fox.