House Speaker Ron Mariano and Senate President Karen Spilka decried the likely reversal of Roe v. Wade at a rally in front of the State House Tuesday, while also conveying that they’ll take their cues from advocates as they craft a state-level response.

"I woke up this morning very dejected, outraged, angry," Spilka said. "I believe this is one of the saddest days in the United States' history. ... We need to take action and take action now."

On Monday evening, a draft Supreme Court ruling overturning Roe v. Wade was obtained and released by the Washington, D.C. news site Politico. The court is expected to announce a final ruling in the next few weeks in the case that centers on a Mississippi law banning most abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy. The case is called Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization; in upholding the Mississippi law, the draft opinion directly overturns Roe’s finding that abortion is a constitutionally protected right.

“Pretty soon, the only laws that'll matter will be for white old guys like me," Mariano said. "Everything else’ll be gone. ... I vow to continue, in my position as speaker of the House, to work with the Senate President and talk to the advocates to support what we can do to show the country how to combat this craziness, this attack on basic human rights."

Both Mariano and Spilka cited the ROE Act, a 2020 state law which codified abortion rights in Massachusetts and lowered the age at which abortions can be obtained without parental or judicial consent from 18 years to 16 years, as an example of the Legislature's commitment to protecting abortion rights. The House and Senate overrode Gov. Charlie Baker's veto of the ROE Act in December 2020.

What the Legislature might do next is unclear, however.

Asked how the House and Senate might respond to the draft ruling, Mariano cited a line item in the House’s recent budget proposal that would go directly to existing abortion funds in Massachusetts.

“We did fund, in our last budget, which the House just finished and now the Senate will get, money to aid in funding abortions,” Mariano said. “$500,000, which is a significant amount of money. And that’s going over to the Senate, and I'm sure — I won’t commit the [Senate] to anything — but it could be the same or it could be more. I’d be very shocked if it was less.”

Mariano promised “where we can be helpful to Planned Parenthood and any other organization, we will be helpful.”

Spilka echoed that promise.

“We will be looking and meeting with folks here and elsewhere to see what else can we do to support women and families in Massachusetts, and possibly other states, who might need assistance,” Spilka said. “Where can Massachusetts continue to be a leader in this area?”

Four people stand in a cluster, all in conversation
Speaker Ron Mariano, in orange tie, speaks with Boston Mayor Michelle Wu and others ahead of the State House press conference on Tuesday, May 3, 2022.
Hannah Reale GBH News

Asked if Massachusetts might emulate Connecticut, which recently passed a law shielding abortion providers and recipients from lawsuits brought by states that have banned or may ban abortion, Spilka was noncommittal.

“I would like to look at everything, and see what is out there and what might be best,” Spilka said.

Advocates and members of the Legislature pointed to specific bills pending on Beacon Hill to ensure abortion access and affordability.

“[We] have a bill that would make medication abortion accessible on public college campuses across Massachusetts — incredibly important that people don't have to travel,” Rebecca Hart Holder, the executive director of Reproductive Equity Now, told GBH News Tuesday. “It needs to be part of campus health care. It needs to be normalized.”

Just one public college in Massachusetts, UMass Amherst, says it offers medication abortion on campus. Rep. Lindsay Sabadosa, who proposed the bill in 2019 along with Sen. Jason Lewis in the Senate, says the bill is more critical now than ever.

“Making sure that there is the broadest amount of access possible within the commonwealth, I think, is something that the legislature should be looking to do,” Sabadosa told GBH News Tuesday. “The uptick that we’re going to see — the uptick that we're already seeing from people crossing state lines to access care — will have an effect on everyone seeking abortion care within Massachusetts.”

Hart Holder also pointed to the full-spectrum pregnancy care bill, proposed by Sen. Cindy Friedman in the state Senate and Reps. Ruth Balser and Sabadosa in the House, which would eliminate co-pays for prenatal care, postpartum care and abortions under state health insurance plans.

“It is extremely, extremely expensive to access care for all pregnancy, and it's something that we have to tackle as part of our healthcare system,” Hart Holder said.

Friedman also underscored the bill’s importance in light of the leaked draft opinion.

“Somehow the Supreme Court thinks that it's okay to take away a woman's right to control her own body, but at the same time, we are making pregnancy care — pregnancy and postpartum care — so expensive for women that they can't afford it, right?” Friedman said. “So we've got women on both ends of the spectrum who seek, need and have every right to healthcare, and we're making it harder for them at every level. And that's why this bill is so important.”

Rep. Jay Livingstone, who was one of the lead sponsors of the ROE Act, also called for continued expansion of abortion access. In addition, he said, the House and Senate should repeal existing state laws that were rendered obsolete by past Supreme Court rulings based on the right to privacy, but which may prove problematic if Roe is reversed.

“On our books today, there are laws preventing any kind of sex except for that between a man and a woman,” Livingstone said. “And that has been declared unconstitutional based on the right to privacy by the U.S. Supreme Court. We should repeal that law. In fact, I have legislation pending to repeal that law.”