Groundbreaking Massachusetts Law Protects Telemedicine Abortion Providers Serving Patients Located in States Banning Abortion

Reproductive Equity Now’s Government Affairs Director Claire Teylouni (third from right) joined the Legislature and Governor for a signing ceremony for the new Massachusetts abortion access law. (Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts)

Massachusetts passed a sweeping new reproductive rights law on July 29 with robust protections for healthcare workers who provide abortion services to patients living outside the state—both those who travel to Massachusetts for care, and those who receive care in their home states from Massachusetts providers via telemedicine. The Massachusetts law means women, girls, trans men and nonbinary people living in states with abortion bans can receive telemedicine abortion care from U.S. providers and obtain abortion pills promptly by mail, rather than having to order pills from outside of the country, which can take weeks.

In addition to provider protections, the law removes cost barriers to abortion care, expands access to third-trimester abortions in cases of grave fetal diagnosis, increases access to emergency contraception and medication abortion, and guarantees the right to gender-affirming care.

“Today Massachusetts has made it indisputably clear: Our commonwealth will stand up to hostile attacks on life-saving and life-affirming healthcare,” said Rebecca Hart Holder, executive director of Reproductive Equity Now.

The new law includes 11 recommendations from the Massachusetts Beyond Roe Agenda, an advocacy plan put forward by Reproductive Equity Now, the ACLU of Massachusetts and Planned Parenthood Advocacy Fund of Massachusetts. The Beyond Roe Coalition launched the advocacy agenda in early May following the leaked Supreme Court draft opinion overturning Roe v. Wade. Advocates worked closely with Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey to draft a strong law that will withstand a likely constitutional challenge from anti-abortion forces.

To shield healthcare providers from unjust attacks by anti-abortion states and advocates, the new law:

  • prohibits the extradition of Massachusetts providers who lawfully provide abortion care in Massachusetts to a resident of a different state where the procedure is illegal;

  • prevents Massachusetts law enforcement officers or employees from providing information or assistance to any federal or state law enforcement agency or private citizen in relation to an investigation or inquiry into protected reproductive healthcare services;

  • creates a new civil remedy for providers in Massachusetts to countersue if they are the subject of criminal prosecution or civil lawsuits filed by someone outside of the state, enabling them to recover an amount equal to the damages assessed in these out-of-state lawsuits;

  • protects providers’ professional licenses from any negative impacts of being sued by a resident of a state where abortion is illegal for providing legal abortion care in the Massachusetts; and

  • keeps malpractice insurance within reach for providers when they face out-of-state civil lawsuits for providing lawful abortion care in Massachusetts.

I want providers to feel like Massachusetts is standing with them and up for them.

Rebecca Hart Holder, executive director of Reproductive Equity Now

These protections mean people living in states with abortion bans or telehealth abortion restrictions can now receive telehealth abortion care from Massachusetts providers. The law will also increase abortion access for minors, since Massachusetts does not require parental consent or notification for minors aged 16 and 17. Therefore, teenagers who do not want to involve their parents but who live in states with parental notification or consent requirements can now receive confidential telehealth abortion care without informing their parents.

“The Massachusetts shield law is a huge breakthrough for getting pills to women in restricted states,” said Dr. Linda Prine, telemedicine abortion advocate and co-founder of the Miscarriage and Abortion Hotline. “Clinicians now have the backing of their state laws, protecting their license and practice, as well as the federal protection of prescribing an FDA approved medication. We are hopeful that other pro-choice states will soon follow suit.”

Massachusetts allows advanced practice clinicians to provide abortion services, including nurses, midwives and physician’s assistants. Prine says that already about 15 providers are looking into offering telemedicine abortion services to people in other states under this provision.

Hart Holder said the provider protections are likely to be challenged in court, but that Attorney General Healey believes the provisions are constitutional. “I want providers to feel like Massachusetts is standing with them and up for them,” said Hart Holder.

Other provisions in the new law include:

  • a requirement that insurance cover abortion and abortion-related care without cost sharing, including copays or deductibles;

  • a requirement that Massachusetts public colleges and universities provide medication abortion at campus health centers;

  • a statewide standing order for both prescription and over-the-counter emergency contraception, allowing licensed pharmacists, following a training program, to provide emergency contraception, and making no-cost insurance coverage possible for all forms of emergency contraception without delay;

  • a provision that allows over-the-counter emergency contraceptives to be sold in vending machines (Boston University now has one that allows students to buy emergency contraception for $7.25, much lower than the retail price of $40-50 in drug stores);

  • a confidential address program for reproductive healthcare and gender-affirming care providers who too often face threats and violence for providing healthcare; 

  • a mandate that Reproductive Equity Now produce a report with Department of Public Health on abortion access deserts in the Commonwealth; and

  • A provision that ensures pregnant patients do not have to leave Massachusetts for abortion care later in pregnancy by allowing abortion after 24 weeks in cases of “grave fetal diagnosis that indicates that the fetus is incompatible with sustained life outside of the uterus without extraordinary medical interventions” as determined by “the best medical judgment of the physician.”

After the law was signed, Vice President Kamala Harris traveled to Massachusetts and met with lawmakers and advocates in Boston on August 4. At this meeting, Harris described Massachusetts as “a national model for protecting reproductive rights on the state level” and she encouraged the leaders to support state legislators across the country who are fighting for abortion protections.

“None of us could anticipate what the fall of Roe would feel like when it really happened,” said Hart Holder. “In a state like Massachusetts, the goal was to go big…to go bigger than we ever dreamed. And it worked. It paid off.”

U.S. democracy is at a dangerous inflection point—from the demise of abortion rights, to a lack of pay equity and parental leave, to skyrocketing maternal mortality, and attacks on trans health. Left unchecked, these crises will lead to wider gaps in political participation and representation. For 50 years, Ms. has been forging feminist journalism—reporting, rebelling and truth-telling from the front-lines, championing the Equal Rights Amendment, and centering the stories of those most impacted. With all that’s at stake for equality, we are redoubling our commitment for the next 50 years. In turn, we need your help, Support Ms. today with a donation—any amount that is meaningful to you. For as little as $5 each month, you’ll receive the print magazine along with our e-newsletters, action alerts, and invitations to Ms. Studios events and podcasts. We are grateful for your loyalty and ferocity.

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About

Carrie N. Baker, J.D., Ph.D., is the Sylvia Dlugasch Bauman professor in the Program for the Study of Women and Gender at Smith College. She is a contributing editor at Ms. magazine. You can contact Dr. Baker at [email protected] or follow her on Twitter @CarrieNBaker.