Legislature rejects Baker’s changes to expansion of abortion access

  • Gov. Charlie Baker speaks at a press conference Friday. State House News Service

Staff Writer
Published: 12/19/2020 8:00:15 AM

NORTHAMPTON — Both the state Senate and House of Representatives overwhelmingly rejected Gov. Charlie Baker’s amendment to abortion rights legislation included in the budget this week, in a move cheered by local abortion rights supporters.

“It’s a moving moment,” said Sen. Adam Hinds, D-Pittsfield, who voted Friday with 31 other senators to reject the amendment. “I feel proud to live in Massachusetts.”

The abortion provisions, based on proposed abortion rights legislation known as the ROE Act, establish an affirmative right to abortion in state law, eliminate the parental consent requirement for abortions for 16- and 17-year-olds, and would allow abortions after 24 weeks in the case of lethal fetal abnormalities or when a fetus is incapable of sustained life outside of the uterus, as well as to preserve a patient’s life or physical or mental health.

Currently, abortions after 24 weeks in Massachusetts can only be performed to “save the life of the mother, or if a continuation of her pregnancy will impose on her a substantial risk of grave impairment of her physical or mental health.”

The governor’s amendment would have maintained the requirement that those under 18 get parental consent for abortions, and would also have created financial penalties for doctors who are found to have performed third trimester abortions against state guidelines. Additionally, the governor proposed different language than the legislature for when an abortion can be performed after 24 weeks to preserve a patient’s physical or mental health.

“The governor all along has claimed that he’s a pro-choice governor,” said Rep. Lindsay Sabadosa, D-Northampton. “This action has proven that that is untrue.”

Sabadosa was one of 107 representatives who voted to reject the governor’s amendment on Wednesday, while 49 representatives voted to accept it.

“It was wonderful to watch so many members push back against the governor,” Sabadosa said.

Rep. Mindy Domb, D-Amherst, meanwhile, described her vote against the amendment as “the best ‘no’ vote I’ve had in the chamber.”

In the Senate, just eight senators voted in favor of the amendment.

“I think the state stepped up at a perilous time for women’s reproductive rights,” said Sen. Jo Comerford, D-Northampton.

She said that the change in the composition of the U.S. Supreme Court has made the legislation urgently needed.

Carrie Baker, a Smith professor and president of the Abortion Rights Fund of Western Massachusetts, expressed criticism of the governor’s amendment, which she described as “terrible.”

“He’s actually making the existing law worse,” Baker said.

John Velis, D-Westfield, was one of the eight senators who backed the governor’s amendment.

Over text, Velis described himself as a pro-choice Democrat, but asserted that putting the provision into the budget wasn’t appropriate.

“Attaching a substantive issue like this to the budget precludes the robust and expansive debate that a topic like this deserves,” Velis said.

He also said he agreed with the governor’s change to language governing abortions after 24 weeks when the health of the mother is at risk.

“In my opinion, this topic isn’t black or white — it is in fact replete with nuance,” Velis said.

Both the House and Senate rejected the amendment by more than two-thirds majorities, meaning they can override a potential veto by Baker. Domb said it’s not certain whether Baker will in fact veto it.

“He knows he’s going to be overridden,” Domb said. “Let’s see how strongly he feels about it.”

Carrie Baker said that supporters of the provision have done phone banks and text banks for people to contact their legislators. She said they’re pressuring the governor as well.

“It’d be great if the governor just signed it,” Baker said. “But I’m not personally optimistic that that’s going to happen.”

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