This article has been updated to reflect the passage of a new Rhode Island law that expands abortion access.
So far in 2019, nine states throughout the country have passed laws that restrict a pregnant woman’s ability to obtain an abortion. Alabama’s law would completely ban all abortions at any point in a pregnancy, even in the case of rape or incest, unless the woman’s life was at risk. Six states have passed “fetal heartbeat” bans, which would ban abortion after a fetus’ heartbeat can be detected — usually six to eight weeks into the pregnancy, before most women know they are pregnant. Other, similar legislation is pending in other states.
None of these states’ bans are currently enforceable, however, because they violate the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in the Roe v. Wade case, which solidified a woman’s right to a safe abortion before fetal viability into federal law.
Meanwhile in Massachusetts, several lawmakers are seeking to affirm a woman's right to choose at a state level. The ROE Act, for which hearings began in the State House on Monday, would expand abortion access in the Bay State. If passed, the bill would: allow abortions later in a pregnancy if a physician determines the fetus cannot survive outside the womb or to protect a woman's physical or mental health; allow minors to obtain an abortion without parental consent; allow qualified medical professionals besides physicians to perform abortions; and would remove the current law that states that abortions after 24 weeks of pregnancy must take place in a hospital.
Opponents of the bill argue that it is extreme and allows abortion too far into a pregnancy.
The urgency with which activists in Massachusetts and some other states are seeking to solidify abortion rights at the state level is due to the national conversation around the potential repeal of Roe v. Wade. Their concern has increased since last year when Justice Brett Kavanaugh, who has declined to say if he would vote in opposition to repealing Roe v. Wade, became a member of the Supreme Court.
In New England, Connecticut, Maine, Vermont and Rhode Island have passed laws that affirm the Roe v. Wade ruling at a state level, declaring a woman has the right to abortion prior to fetal viability. Vermont's law does that and goes a step further to recognize "as a fundamental right the freedom of reproductive choice," without basing that right on a particular time frame during a pregnancy. These laws secure a woman's right to abortion in the case of the repeal of Roe v. Wade.
Read more: The Abortion Fight In Massachusetts
Given the state of flux surrounding abortion rights, we looked into each New England state’s abortion laws. Some are already in effect, as each state gets to choose whether to allow abortion after fetal viability (when a fetus would be able to survive outside the womb). Other statewide laws are unconstitutional under Roe v. Wade and are not currently enforced.
Here’s where each New England state stands on the key issues surrounding abortion access:
Graphics by Kaitlyn Locke/WGBH News