Right to choose safe in Massachusetts, Baker says

  • Rachel Maiore, center on stage, the director of the Pioneer Valley Women's March, speaks during a rally against abortion bans Tuesday, May 21, 2019 at Pulaski Park in Northampton. Women dressed in red on stage represent characters from “The Handmaid's Tale.” Dinah Kudatski, front, of Amherst, holds a sign. STAFF FILE PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

State House News Service
Published: 5/23/2019 4:53:38 PM

BOSTON — Acknowledging a "tremendous amount of anxiety" over abortion rights around the country, Gov. Charlie Baker said Thursday that a woman's right to choose is safe in Massachusetts, even if he remains skeptical of expanding abortion access.

"I certainly will do everything I need to do to protect a woman's right to choose here in Massachusetts, period," Baker said during an interview on Boston Public Radio.

The Republican governor's comments came just days after abortion rights activists gathered at the State House in solidarity with protestors in other states opposing crackdowns on abortion access.

A number of states, including Alabama and Missouri, have moved in recent weeks to sharply restrict abortion, testing the foundation of Roe v. Wade.

The governor noted that the right to an abortion is protected in Massachusetts by statute and a Supreme Judicial Court ruling affirming it as a constitutional right, and he listed steps he and the Legislature have taken to wipe old anti-abortion laws off the books and ensure fully insured access to reproductive health.

Baker also said his support for comprehensive sex education has not changed since the 2014 campaign, and he left some wiggle room in his opposition to the ROE Act.

The ROE Act, which is pending before two legislative committees on Beacon Hill, would legalize abortions after 24 weeks in cases of fatal fetal abnormalities that have been determined by a doctor to make life after birth unsustainable.

Baker has said he doesn't see a need to change the current abortion laws in Massachusetts, and he repeated that Thursday.

"I don't believe we should be opening wide open the notion that any circumstance or situation beyond 24 weeks when there is viability, which has always been the standard, should be lost," he said.

Pressed whether he would be open to allowing an abortion in rare cases when a mother finds out after 24 weeks their baby won't survive after birth, Baker first said he wasn't going to try to write a statute on the radio.

Then he said, "I would certainly not want someone in Massachusetts in that situation to feel like they have to go somewhere else to get their problem solved."

In light of the national abortion debate, legislation to improve sex education in Massachusetts schools has also gotten renewed attention.

"I don't know how many schools do and don't have it, and maybe the first thing we should do is figure that out. I think it's most," Baker said.

Sex education in not currently mandated in Massachusetts, and Baker said he thinks it would be difficult to require it in the curriculum for all schools.

The Senate has in past years passed legislation that would not mandate sex education, but would set standards for medically accurate sex education, including the subject of consent.The legislation, known as the "Healthy Youth" bill, has been filed in the House by Melrose Rep. Paul Brodeur.

"I support age-appropriate, medically accurate, comprehensive sex education as long as it comes with pretty significant notification and opt-out clauses if people want to go there," Baker said.

In response to Bambi from Topsfield who called in to accuse the MassGOP of "political terrorism" by targeting supporters of ROE Act and calling it "infanticide," Baker urged lawmakers, advocates and even his own Republican Party to refrain from using "incendiary" language when debating sensitive issues like abortion.


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