Massachusetts House and Senate approve abortion access amendment

View of Massachusetts State House from Boston Commons.

Both the Massachusetts House of Representatives and the Massachusetts Senate have approved similar amendments that would expand access to abortion within the state. These votes have made it so Gov. Charlie Baker is likely to have to review the amendment. 

The Rep. Claire Cronin amendment was spoken about in the House of Representatives annual state budget discussion. The House passed the $46 billion budget on Thursday, Nov. 12, and also adopted what WBUR referred to as “four mega-amendments that addressed topics from education and local aid to labor and economic development.” 

Deliberations in the House lasted two days, and the only debate to come about in the chamber was that of the adaptation of the abortion access amendment. 

The amendment allows abortions after 24 weeks if the fetus is shown to have a fatal birth defect. As of now, late-term abortions such as these are only allowed under Massachusetts law if the mother’s health is at risk. 

The amendment also lowers the age at which a woman needs parental or judicial consent to obtain an abortion from 18 years of age to 16, meaning that minors can choose to have an abortion. 

Additionally, the amendment says that the Department of Public Health should collect data on abortions performed by physicians, physicians assistants, certified nurse practitioners, or certified nurse mid-wives. 

Before votes were cast in the House regarding the amendment, 90 minutes of debate occurred. The vote was 10849. 

The Massachusetts Senate convened Wednesday, Nov. 18, to approve a very similar amendment. This amendment also allows abortions after 24 weeks if a fatal birth defect is shown and lowers the minimum age that an individual can legally access the procedure from 18 to 16. 

The Senate voted 337 to approve the amendment after two hours of comments.

The amendment also makes it clear that according to Massachusetts state law, abortion is legal. 

“The amendment would ensure that state law explicitly allows abortions, which supporters said is a critical safety net if the federal judiciary alters the precedent that Roe v. Wade set,” reported WBZ News. 

Both the House representative and the State Senator who brought these amendments to their respective agendas have cited the recent changes in the makeup of the Supreme Court as reason for this legislation. 

"It was only hours after the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, that [Speaker Robert DeLeo] called me, and on a Friday night no less, to make clear that the House would take action to ensure that a woman's right to access safe reproductive care remained intact," Rep. Cronin said, according to WBUR. 

"The time has come for urgent action," said a sponsor of the amendment in the Senate, Senate President Emerita Harriette Chandler, according to WBUR. "I believe in an affirmative right to choose, but this right now hangs in the balance. Those of us who remember the days before legal abortion and contraception must unite with those of us who never knew those dark times to protect this right at all costs." 

Because the amendment has passed both in the House and the Senate, “language codifying and expanding abortion access rights in Massachusetts is virtually guaranteed to land on Gov. Charlie Baker’s desk” according to WBZ News. 

The pro-choice Republican governor has not said that he would veto the measure, but he has said that he does not support a major policy change in the budget during the pandemic. 

Though Governor Baker has expressed discontent with the process in which the amendment came about and has remained a bit ambiguous about his feelings regarding the actual amendment, he made it clear in a press conference on Friday, Nov. 13 that he has previously supported efforts to improve access to reproductive health in Massachusetts.

 

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