Massachusetts Dem's 'Off the Rails' Remarks Draw Backlash

At City Council meeting, Michael Hugo tied abortion to costs of services for special-needs kids
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 24, 2023 2:20 PM CST

A Massachusetts town official is making the apology rounds after comments he made that tied abortion and children with special needs. NBC Boston reports that during a Framingham City Council meeting on Feb. 7, the council voted unanimously to pass an ordinance that offered local protection for reproductive rights. In the discussion surrounding that vote, the topic of abortion came up, and of crisis pregnancy centers, which the MetroWest Daily News describes as "facilities that represent themselves as legitimate reproductive health care clinics that provide care for pregnant people but which actually aim to dissuade them from accessing abortion care."

Michael Hugo, chair of the town's Democratic Committee, stood up to slam those types of centers and their staff, but his comments ended up generating their own backlash. "Our fear is that if an unqualified sonographer misdiagnoses a heart defect, an organ defect, spina bifida ... that becomes a very local issue, because our school budget will have to absorb the cost of a child in special education, supplying lots and lots of special services to children who were born with the defect," Hugo noted. Pushback to his remarks was immediate. Longtime committee member Patrick Dunne said Hugo had gone "off the rails" with his comments, while City Councilor Adam Steiner called them "totally unacceptable and disturbing."

Sheryl Goldstein, chair of the Framingham Disability Commission, was similarly taken aback. "I saw what Michael had said as a personal attack against my own children," she said, per Fox News. "That my children who had special needs were not worth the expense in the school system." Other parents of children with disabilities or life-altering conditions had similar reactions, with some calling for his resignation, per Fox. On Feb. 17, Hugo issued a formal apology, explaining that even though he's his committee's chair, he hadn't had anyone on the panel review an outline of his comments ahead of time, which he says was "poorly drafted" and "hastily put together," per the Daily News.

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"Nothing in my comments was meant to be derogatory or hurtful," he wrote. "I owe you an apology without any excuses or equivocation ... especially when I know in my heart of hearts that I have upset people I truly care for and about." His group's executive committee weighed in with its own statement, calling Hugo's comments "harmful, misleading, and wrong" and proclaiming, "We fully disavow and denounce them." Hugo told the Daily News last week that he wouldn't be resigning as chair. (A GOP Alaska lawmaker took heat for making remarks about the possible cost savings from children who died of abuse.)

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