Nguyen: State must protect women’s reproductive rights

(File photo) State Rep. Tram Nguyen, D-Andover

Previously, as a candidate and now as a state representative, I have been clear on my stance as a champion for women’s reproductive rights. Currently the state Legislature is considering the “ROE Act,” a bill that would protect a patient’s fundamental right to access safe, medically appropriate abortion care. I want the people whom I represent, including those who have strongly held personal beliefs on this issue, to know why I stand with the large majority of those who elected me to fight for women’s reproductive rights.

The decision about whether, when and how to have a child is deeply personal and should not involve the government. Abortion is health care. It must be safe, legal, accessible and affordable for everyone. The medical decision about having an abortion should be between a pregnant woman and her doctor.

Rather than making it more difficult for a woman to decide what to do with her own body, Massachusetts should ensure that she has the full range of medical options available to make the best decisions for herself and her family.

By passing the ROE Act, our commonwealth would codify these protections in the general laws to guarantee women’s reproductive rights, which they would then be able to exercise without concern for what happens to Roe v. Wade at the federal level. It will make abortions subject to the same legal oversight as all other medical care and dismantle medically unnecessary and politically motivated barriers that delay and deny abortion care to women who choose them.

Patient safety and autonomy suffer when doctors cannot offer their full and unbiased advice and services for reproductive health care. This includes heartbreaking situations where a woman who wants to have a child is given a lethal fetal diagnosis. They learn that their pregnancy is not viable and if the pregnancy were carried to term, the fetus could not survive outside of the uterus.

Our current laws constrain a woman who receives this diagnosis later in her pregnancy, forcing her to continue to carry the fetus to full term even though doing so significantly increases her own health risks. The reality is that the few women who can afford to spend $20,000 will travel out-of-state to Colorado or Mexico to obtain the health care services they desperately need.

However, most women cannot afford this and are forced to jeopardize their own health and safety to deliver a stillborn baby. Abortion health care should not be inaccessible to those who do not have significant financial means. This is cruel and unjust.

The ROE Act would also make abortion care more practical for pregnant people under 18 years of age by removing the parental consent/judicial bypass requirement. Right now, young people can make any and all decisions about their pregnancy except when and how to end their pregnancy. While a vast majority of young people turn to their parents for advice and help when they become pregnant, there are some who determine that their parents would not be the best adults to turn to for assistance because of fear of getting kicked out of their homes or being subject to physical harm and other kinds of abuse.

The consequence of the judicial bypass alternative is to delay and deny abortion access to vulnerable adolescents, many of whom are women of color or from low-income families.

In practice the judicial bypass alternative is essentially a rubber stamp; of the 23,000 young people who have sought a judicial bypass since 1981, only two have been denied. However, the process is onerous for them and can delay abortion care as much as two months. These women need to get a lawyer, take time off from school, find transportation to court, and go through the difficulty of explaining the details of their situation to lawyers and judges.

Many young people in Massachusetts would rather go to a bordering state that does not require parental consent. The government should not be pressuring our children to leave Massachusetts to end their pregnancies.

Furthermore, people who feel unsafe going to their parents are often the victims of abuse and the judicial bypass process is not designed to help them. Judges are not trained to identify signs of abuse and, more importantly, because they are bound by confidentiality in matters involving minors, they cannot report suspected abuse.

In contrast, medical doctors are licensed, held to the highest professional standards that are overseen by the state, trained to identify signs of abuse, mandated reporters of abuse, and equipped to connect people with the community services and resources they need to get help.

A large majority of constituents in my district want women to be able to make decisions about their own health care and should they choose to have an abortion to be able to access it safely, legally and without barriers. I respect that people have firmly held personal beliefs, but we cannot impose our personal beliefs on others.

The voters of my district elected me to protect women’s access to health care, and that is what I will continue to do.

State Rep. Tram Nguyen represents the 18th Essex District which encompasses parts of Andover, Boxford, North Andover and Tewksbury.

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