No Signs of Life for ROE Act Abortion Expansion Bill on Beacon Hill

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Want to know what’s going on with the proposed ROE Act abortion expansion bill?

It’s hard to say for sure. But the tea leaves suggest that it’s not happening this year.

The formal session of the current two-year legislative session of the Massachusetts Legislature is scheduled to end on July 31, and despite support for the bill from progressive figures such as U.S. Representative Ayanna Pressley (D-Dorchester) and Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey, it has not come up for a vote yet.

A State House News Service story published Wednesday, July 22 headlined “Nine Issues To Watch Over The Next Nine Days” doesn’t mention the ROE Act bill.

The bill (S.1209) would eliminate most restrictions on abortions occurring after 24 weeks of pregnancy in Massachusetts. It would also eliminate a requirement that girls 17 or younger get permission from a parent or a judge before getting an abortion; expand public funding for abortion; and eliminate a requirement that doctors provide the same type life-saving care to infants born alive after a failed abortion attempt as they would for a baby born prematurely. The bill would also eliminate the requirement that life-saving medical equipment be present in a room where a fetus that could potentially live outside of the womb is aborted.

The ROE Act bill has been sitting in the Joint Committee on the Judiciary since June 2019, and its advocates want to see it come up for a vote and passed into law in the next nine days. But will it happen?

Members of the Joint Committee on the Judiciary have little to say about it.

On Monday and Tuesday, New Boston Post contacted all 16 members of the committee to ask what they thought the chances were of the bill coming up for a vote. Only one responded, and didn’t offer a direct answer.

State Senator Will Brownsberger (D-Belmont) told New Boston Post in an email message, “It’s an important bill.  I continue to work for its passage.”

Additionally, Lena Shapiro, the communications director for state Senator Sonia Chang-Diaz (D-Jamaica Plain), told New Boston Post by email,  “Unfortunately, the Senator’s schedule is absolutely slammed right now and she’s not able to comment.”

As for everyone else? No response.

That includes:  state senators Jamie Eldridge (D-Acton), Cynthia Stone Creem (D-Newton), Eric Lesser (D-Longmeadow), Patrick O’Connor (R-Weymouth); and state representatives Claire Cronin (D-Easton), Michael Day (D-Stoneham), Colleen Garry (D-Dracut), Jay Livingstone (D-Back Bay), Carole Fiola (D-Fall River), Christopher Hendricks (D-New Bedford), Liz Miranda (D-Roxbury), Susannah Whipps (I-Athol), Sheila Harrington (R-Groton), and Alyson Sullivan (R-Abington).

Two groups pushing the ROE Act bill released a statement earlier this week that seemed to throw in the towel for this legislative session, while praising legislators who support the bill as “ROE Act Champions.”

“During the 2019-2020 legislative session, the ROE Act gained incredible momentum, due in large part to the support of the ROE Act Champions. These pro-choice champions have made passing the ROE Act a top legislative priority,” said Rebecca Hart Holder, executive Director of NARAL Pro-Choice Massachusetts, in a written statement Monday, July 20 that also represented Planned Parenthood Advocacy Fund of Massachusetts. “This session has posed unprecedented challenges but, through it all, these Champions have remained committed to removing barriers to abortion care in Massachusetts.”

Myrna Maloney Flynn, the president of Massachusetts Citizens for Life, told New Boston Post the lack of recent activity concerning the bill is encouraging. 

“I credit members of the Joint Committee on the Judiciary for recognizing the significance of the ROE Act and how the legislation would irreparably impact the lives of our women, girls, and infants,” Maloney Flynn told New Boston Post in an email message. “For well over a year, residents of the Commonwealth, on both sides of the abortion debate, have had the opportunity to learn exactly what this legislation removes from current abortion law:  common sense health and safety provisions. “

She also said that the bill is too extreme for even left-leaning Massachusetts.

“Even a voter who considers herself pro-choice now understands that the ROE Act is not sound,” she wrote. “Upon learning that, under ROE, viable babies who survive failed abortions may be denied life-saving medical attention, and girls as young as 12 will be able to have an abortion without any adult knowing about it, any reasonable person would hesitate to support it. And that is what we’re hearing from voters across the state. 

“At first glance, many assumed the ROE Act was exactly what Massachusetts needed,” she added. “Now that residents, both the elected and their constituents, have had a chance to read the bill and consider its many risks and dangerous implications, even abortion supporters think it goes too far.”

Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker, who supports legal abortion, said in April 2019 that he does not support the ROE Act bill. The governor’s press office could not be reached for comment on Monday or Tuesday.

If the bill doesn’t pass this year, it is likely to be filed again in January 2021, when the new two-year legislative session begins.