Massachusetts House Seeks to Overturn Baker Abortion Amendment

Gov. Charlie Baker had proposed several changes to the legislation

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Massachusetts House lawmakers are planning to meet Wednesday to overturn Gov. Charlie Baker’s efforts to roll back some of their actions aimed at expanding access to abortion in the state.

The Legislature’s measure — which was included in its version of the state budget — would let women obtain an abortion after 24 weeks of pregnancy in cases of “fatal fetal anomalies.” Current state law allows abortions after 24 weeks only to preserve the life or health of the mother.

The measure would also lower the age, to 16, at which an abortion could be obtained without the permission of a parent. Under current law, those under 18 must have at least one parent’s consent or seek judicial consent to have an abortion.

The measure also codifies the right to an abortion in state law.

Baker last week told lawmakers in a letter that he backs several elements of the proposal, including language affirming the right to an abortion and a provision ensuring “a woman can access an abortion in cases where the child will not survive after birth.”

The Republican governor wrote, however, that he “cannot support the other ways that this section expands the availability of late-term abortions and permits minors age 16 and 17 to get an abortion without the consent of a parent or guardian.”

Baker also proposed changing when an abortion would be allowed after 24 weeks. He recommended allowing abortions if continuing the pregnancy would pose “a substantial risk” to a woman’s physical or mental health. The version passed by lawmakers would allow abortions after 24 weeks if a doctor determines the procedure would “preserve” the woman’s health.

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Doctors who violate late-term abortion laws would face civil penalties of up to $15,000 and loss of their professional license, under Baker’s proposal.
Democratic House Speaker Robert DeLeo said the House will seek to reject Baker’s proposals.

“On Wednesday, the House will act to overturn the Administration’s amendment, which sought to erode the reproductive health protections the Legislature last month voted to put in place for Massachusetts,” DeLeo said in written statement Tuesday. “The House will vote in favor of safeguarding women’s reproductive rights in the Commonwealth at a time when they are under threat due to the new composition of the United States Supreme Court.”

Asked about DeLeo’s decision, Baker said he’s worked with Democrats to strengthen abortion rights, including repealing antiquated state abortion laws.
He said the changes he has agreed to in the budget would continue that effort.

“The proposal we made, if enacted, would give Massachusetts some of the broadest and most significant reproductive health rights in the United States,” Baker said Tuesday. “In many cases we actually sided with sort of the tone and tenor of the House language.”

The actions have drawn the attention of activists on both sides of the abortion divide.

Massachusetts Citizens for Life Executive Director Patricia Stewart said in a statement Friday that while “there remains much in this bill with which to take issue, we thank Governor Baker for the commonsense recommendation to raise the age for consent to abortion to 18.”

The ROE Act Coalition, a coalition of abortion rights groups, decried Baker’s actions.

“The ROE Act Coalition is deeply disappointed by Governor Baker’s failure to recognize the urgent need to improve access to care. His amendment pushes abortion care out of reach for many, especially for people with low-incomes and communities of color,” the group said.

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