Abortion Expansion Bill Likely To Get Massachusetts House Vote This Week

Printed from: https://newbostonpost.com/2020/11/10/abortion-expansion-bill-likely-to-get-massachusetts-house-vote-this-week/

Massachusetts House Speaker Robert DeLeo is green-lighting an amendment to the state budget bill that would expand late-term abortions and either lower the age requiring parental consent for abortion or eliminate it altogether.

Current language in the bill is murky on whether a doctor who performs an abortion would still be required to save the life of a baby who survives it, as state law currently provides.

A vote in the House is expected this week.

The budget bill amendment is a side-door means of getting at least some of the features of the proposed ROE Act abortion expansion bill into state law, after the bill has stalled in committee for more than a year and a half.

If the abortion provisions pass both chambers of the state Legislature – which seems likely, since both Speaker DeLeo and Massachusetts Senate President Karen Spilka have signaled their support – it would set up a decision for Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker, who has previously said he opposes the ROE Act bill because he doesn’t want to expand late-term abortions.

Baker could issue a line-item veto against the abortion measure and send it back to legislators to try to muster a two-thirds majority in both chambers to override him.

Or he could reverse himself and sign it.

The proposed abortion legislation released Monday resembles the proposed ROE Act bill but doesn’t mirror its language. Supporters of the legislation were reluctant to say how it differs:  “A spokesman for NARAL Pro-Choice Massachusetts said he could not comment specifically to the difference between the ROE Act and the amendment …” State House News Service reported Monday, November 9.

The abortion legislation released Monday appears to be a work in progress. A portion of the current language, for instance, appears to remove the current requirement in state law that girls 17 or younger get permission from a parent or a judge in order to get an abortion without modifying it. But language further down sets the new age of parental consent at 15 or younger.

The new abortion legislation addresses concerns of opponents that the ROE Act bill would legalize infanticide in cases where a baby survives a late-term abortion — but, according to one observer, it doesn’t answer them.

Andrew Beckwith, president and general counsel of the Massachusetts Family Institute, notes that the new language requires that late-term abortions take place in a room that has “life-supporting equipment … , as defined by the department of public health, to enable the physician performing the abortion to take appropriate steps, in keeping with good medical practice and consistent with the procedure being used, to preserve the life and health of a live birth and the patient” – but it doesn’t say the physician has to try to save the life of the baby, as current state law does.

Massachusetts Republican Party chairman Jim Lyons said the new version of the abortion legislation still amounts to legalizing infanticide.

“In the midst of a deadly pandemic, where the focus has been about saving lives, the radical Democrats want to kill babies born alive following failed late-term abortions,” Lyons said in a written statement Monday.

Supporters of the abortion expansion legislation are framing it in the context of the nomination and confirmation in October of Amy Coney Barrett to the U.S. Supreme Court. That sets up a possible majority of justices who may be inclined to overturn Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion nationwide.

At least five of the nine justices are widely thought to harbor anti-Roe sentiments.

Of the justices currently on the court, three are known to support Roe (Stephen Breyer, Elena Kagan, and Sonia Sotomayor). Two are known to support overturning Roe (Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito). The three newest members (Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh, and Amy Coney Barrett) – all appointed by President Donald Trump – are widely suspected to be in favor of overturning Roe, but they haven’t said so publicly since joining the court. The vote of the chief justice, John Roberts, is widely thought to be harder to predict.

If Roe were overturned, it would return abortion law to the states unless Congress got involved. In Massachusetts, a state Supreme Judicial Court ruling in 1981 declared abortion a right under the state constitution; current state statutes make abortion legal; and the vast majority of state legislators support legal abortion.

Yet supporters of legal abortion say they feel threatened.

DeLeo, the House Speaker, issued a written statement Monday arguing that Roe v. Wade needs a boost in Massachusetts.

“Following last week’s joint statement with Senate President Spilka, in which we expressed concern over the threat to women’s reproductive rights on the national level, it is urgent that the House take up an immediate measure to remove barriers to women’s reproductive health options and protect the concepts enshrined in Roe v. Wade,” DeLeo said in a statement.

A spokesman for the ROE Act Coalition – which includes NARAL Pro-Choice Massachusetts, Planned Parenthood Advocacy Fund of Massachusetts, and the ACLU of Massachusetts – issued a statement Monday thanking state Representative Claire Cronin (D-Easton), co-chairman of the Massachusetts Legislature’s Joint Committee on the Judiciary, for helping to move the legislation forward. The group also argued that the recent election results support the ROE Act bill.

“We are incredibly grateful that Chair Cronin is working to protect reproductive freedom in Massachusetts. When Massachusetts voters reelected every incumbent who supported the ROE Act and also voted out anti-abortion legislators, they made it clear that they want state lawmakers to remove medically unnecessary barriers to abortion care,” the coalition said in a written statement, according to State House News Service.

Beckwith, of the Massachusetts Family Institute, said the new abortion legislation conflicts with the spirit of Joe Biden’s reaching out this past weekend to Trump supporters.

“At a time when national Democrats are calling for unity and reconciliation, Beacon Hill is trying to force a radical change on the most divisive issue in American politics. And despite months of Black Lives Matter protests, these hard-core abortion activists want to ‘increase access’ to a procedure that routinely kills black babies at a rate four times that of white babies,” Beckwith said in an email message to New Boston Post.