How Local Activists are Organizing for Reproductive Rights

In Northampton, Massachusetts, activists are working closely with two city councilors to pass an abortion rights resolution called the ROE Act that strengthens local protections for reproductive rights—and demands that state and national lawmakers take action to do the same.

Activists in Northampton, Mass. spoke out in support of the ROE Act before the City Council last week. (Shanique Spalding)

The ROE Act removes medically inaccurate and inflammatory language from current laws, eliminates an onerous judicial bypass process for teenagers accessing abortion and a 24-hour mandatory waiting period for patients seeking abortion care, expands access to abortion after 24 weeks of pregnancy in cases of fatal fetal anomalies and establishes safety net coverage for abortion for people excluded from state health insurance.

The resolution also bolsters larger efforts to expand and defend reproductive rights: It condemns recent bans on abortion in Alabama, Kentucky, Georgia and Missouri; supports bills currently pending before the Massachusetts legislature that would eliminate post-Roe restrictions on abortion in the state and require public universities in Massachusetts to provide medication abortion; and declares the city’s support for federal legislation like the Equal Access to Abortion Coverage in Health Insurance (EACH Woman) Act and the Women’s Health Protection Act.

“It is imperative that every individual, community and U.S. state speak up, pass resolutions and legislation and affirm loudly and clearly our commitment to the protection of abortion and reproductive health care rights.,” Alisa F. Klein, who co-sponsored the resolution with fellow city councilor Gina-Louise Sciarra, declared at a hearing last week on the measure. “This resolution is the Northampton City Council’s stand against the erosion of the constitutional right to reproductive health care and safe abortions.”

Community members also showed up in force to speak in favor of the resolution—including representatives from the Abortion Rights Fund of Western Massachusetts, Planned Parenthood Advocacy Fund of Massachusetts, Title X clinic Tapestry Health; three high school students; and state Representative Lindsay Sabadosa, who serves on the board of the Abortion Rights Fund. After the hearing, Northampton’s city council unanimously supported the ROE Act, scheduling a final vote on the measure for June 20.

Local activists in Northampton are demanding action on abortion rights in the face of escalating national attacks. (Shanique Spalding)

Grassroots activists in cities and towns across the country are similarly urging local officials to declare their support for full access to reproductive health care and safe abortions, including in states where extreme abortion bans have recently been signed into law. City councils in Atlanta, Georgia and Columbus, Ohio have passed resolutions opposing their states six-week abortion bans. After Governor DeWine signed an Ohio ban into law, the Dayton City Commission passed a resolution asking area hospitals to sign a transfer agreement with the only clinic in the area, the Women’s Medical Center; in Cleveland, a majority of the members of the City Council wrote a letter to the Governor opposing the ban. 

Activists and local officials elsewhere are also hard at work to declare their solidarity with women now facing restrictions on their reproductive freedom. In the state of Washington, the Bellingham City Council passed a resolution supporting abortion rights. New York City’s council even approved a measure allocating $250,000 to the New York Abortion Access Fund, making it the first locality in the country to fund abortions. 

Jenny Dodson Mistry of the National Institute for Reproductive Health (NIRH) told Ms. that local resolutions are an “important statement of values” and that they “play an important role in protecting and advancing access to reproductive health care.” For over a decade, NIRH has been promoting proactive local policies on issues like insurance coverage for abortion, clinic violence and deceptive practices of anti-abortion pregnancy centers; in collaboration with All Above All, the organization is also tracking proactive local abortion policy. Mistry is currently drafting a model resolution and is available to help activists strategize about how to pass resolutions in their communities.

As state and federal lawmakers threaten abortion rights and escalate attacks on access, local activism is becoming a critical part of the political landscape. Efforts like those in Northampton are becoming beacons of hope for activists across the nation who are disheartened by the rollbacks of reproductive rights and threats to Roe playing out in national headlines.

“As we watch in horror and anger the attempts to shred reproductive rights and access to healthcare in other states, there is real urgency to protect and strengthen our rights here in Massachusetts,” Sciarra said. “It is a painful sign of the times that communities, states and our federal legislators need to pass resolutions and laws to ensure that individuals can make reproductive decisions about their own bodies, particularly when the highest court in the land long ago protected this constitutional right.”

About

Carrie N. Baker is Professor and Director of the Program for the Study of Women and Gender at Smith College. Her 2007 book The Women's Movement Against Sexual Harassment won the National Women’s Studies Association Sara A. Whaley Book Prize. Her second book, Fighting the US Youth Sex Trade: Gender, Race and Politics, tells the story of activism against youth involvement in the sex trade in the United States between 1970 and 2015.