Massachusetts abortion hotline now offers free legal advice

Massachusetts launched a hotline Monday offering free legal advice to people seeking abortions in the state, as well as their health care providers and helpers — joining several other states in a move spurred by the U.S. Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade last summer, which has led to increasingly restrictive abortion laws in other states.

“It will help people and families, including those who travel from out of state seeking care, access these critical health care services,” Attorney General Andrea Campbell said at a news conference.

When a patient or provider calls the hotline — which went live Monday morning — coordinators from the Reproductive Equity Now Foundation and the Women’s Bar Foundation will help connect the callers to one of about 150 volunteer attorneys who are specially trained, and come from one of five of Boston's most prominent law firms or the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts.

A week ago, Oregon's Department of Justice announced a similar project, which was modeled on hotlines launched by the attorneys general of New York and Delaware.

Like those other states, Massachusetts has experienced an increase in the number of patients traveling from states where abortions have been banned or restricted since the Supreme Court's decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization.

Since then, near-total bans on abortion have been implemented in Alabama, Arkansas, Idaho, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas and West Virginia.

“Abortion remains legal in Massachusetts and no anti-abortion extremist should be able to reach across our borders and challenge that,” Rebecca Hart Holder, President of the Reproductive Equity Now Foundation, said at Monday’s news conference.

The hotline will also help patients and providers cut through the confusing array of abortion misinformation, U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren said.

“One of the results of the Dobbs decision has been misinformation," Warren said. “Misinformation about which services are legal. Deception about where to receive health care services.”

She called this type of misinformation “lies intended to discourage women from accessing basic reproductive care” and said that "with this hotline, Massachusetts is fighting back against misinformation, deception and outright lies.”

People who travel from out of state to Massachusetts sometimes fear being arrested or losing their homes, said Carol Rose, Executive Director of the ACLU of Massachusetts.

“Patients and providers still find themselves in a new and frightening reality,” she said. “The Dobbs decision created a chaotic patchwork of abortion laws that make it very difficult for patients and providers alike to figure out how to navigate. And so there are so many legal questions that are raised and are going continue to be raised, so having this abortion legal hotline is just mission critical.”

The hotline is on top of a powerful state law signed last July by former Republican Gov. Charlie Baker that protects abortion providers and people seeking abortions from actions taken by other states, including blocking the governor from extraditing anyone charged in another state unless the acts for which extradition is sought would be punishable by Massachusetts law.

The measure also states that access to reproductive and gender-affirming health care services is a right protected by the Massachusetts Constitution; requires the state’s Medicaid program, known as MassHealth, to cover abortions; allows over-the-counter emergency contraception to be sold in vending machines; and requires public colleges and universities to create medication abortion readiness plans for students.