Politics

Massachusetts House plans to overturn Charlie Baker’s changes to abortion access measure

"We'll see how this all plays out."

Massachusetts House Speaker Bob DeLeo says his chamber will overturn the governor's rejection of language to make abortions more accessible. John Tlumacki / The Boston Globe

Massachusetts state lawmakers are moving ahead to change the state’s abortion access laws — even in the face of opposition from Gov. Charlie Baker.

House Speaker Bob DeLeo announced Tuesday afternoon that his chamber will vote Wednesday to override Baker’s recent rejection of parts of a budget amendment that would increase access to abortion in Massachusetts.

The amendment, which was approved last month by veto-proof majorities in the House and Senate, included language that would increase access to late-term abortions and lower the age at which minors can obtain an abortion without parental consent in Massachusetts.

Currently, state law only allows abortions after 24 weeks of pregnancy if the mother’s health is at “a substantial risk of grave impairment.” The budget amendment would change that to also allow abortions after 24 weeks if the fetus is diagnosed with a fatal birth defect. It would also lower the age at which a minor can obtain an abortion without parental permission from 18 to 16.

Baker had expressed “unhappiness” with the Legislature making major policy changes in the spending bill. And while the pro-choice Republican said he supported the amendment’s broad language affirming a woman’s right to an abortion, he sent it back to lawmakers requesting changes to the more debated aspects of the measure.

“I 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 wrote in an amendment letter.

DeLeo said in a statement Tuesday that Baker’s proposed amendment would “erode the reproductive health protections the Legislature last month voted to put in place for Massachusetts,” which Democrats have argued are increasingly important after Justice Amy Coney Barrett replaced the late liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, giving conservatives a 6-3 majority on the Supreme Court.

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“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,” DeLeo said.

The amendment had been adopted by a 108-49 vote in the House and a 33-7 vote in the Senate — both of which exceed the two-third majority needed to override a veto from Baker.

Senate President Karen Spilka’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment. In an interview with MassLive last month, Spilka said she believed legislators need to “respond to the moment.”

In response to DeLeo’s announcement, Baker reiterated Tuesday afternoon that he was enormously proud on the bipartisan work done to improve access to reproductive health services in Massachusetts, including the repeal of several antiquated state laws.

During a press conference, the governor also said that the current amendment, if enacted with his proposed changes, would “give Massachusetts some of the broadest and most significant reproductive health rights in the United States.”

While keeping the consent age requirement at 18, the governor’s proposed changes would allow abortions after 24 weeks if “a continuation of the pregnancy will impose, in the best medical judgment of the physician, a substantial risk to” the mother’s health. The amendment approved by state lawmakers would have allowed such abortions if “necessary, in the best medical judgment of the physician, to preserve the patient’s physical or mental health.”

Baker’s proposed changes would still allow late-term abortions if the fetus has an unsurvivable birth defect.

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Still, reproductive rights advocates argue that Baker’s proposed changes would maintain barriers to abortion that “have sent people out of state, forced young people to go before a judge, and delayed and denied care,” and disproportionately affect people with low incomes and communities of color.

During the press conference Tuesday, Baker also alluded to the fact that his proposed change to the late-term abortion language follows the language that had been originally proposed by the House earlier on during the debate.

“We’ll see how this all plays out,” he said of DeLeo’s announcement.

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