Massachusetts Senate Rejects Governor’s Abortion Bill Changes on Parental Consent

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Massachusetts Republican Governor Charlie Baker wanted to make a change to the abortion expansion bill, but the Massachusetts Senate rejected it.

Baker, although a supporter of legal abortion, does not support the abortion bill as written, arguing that 16-year-olds and 17-year-olds should continue to have to get permission from a parent or a judge in order to get an abortion. He also wants to tighten the language describing when abortions after 24 weeks of pregnancy can take place.

State senators voted 8-32 to reject Baker’s amendments on Friday afternoon.

All four Republicans voted for Baker’s amendments:  state Senator Bruce Tarr (R-Gloucester), state Senator Ryan Fattman (R-Sutton), state Senator Dean Tran (R-Fitchburg), and state Senator Patrick O’Connor (R-Weymouth).

Four of the 36 Democrats also voted for Baker’s amendments:   state Senator Nick Collins (D-South Boston), state Senator Walter Timilty (D-Milton), state Senator John Velis (D-Westfield), and state Senator Mike Rush (D-West Roxbury).

The 80 percent who voted against the amendments is well more than the two-thirds majority that would be needed to override a veto from the governor, if that comes.

State Senator Harriette Chandler (D-Worcester), a driving force behind the original ROE Act abortion expansion bill, which was more sweeping, spoke out against the governor’s amendment before the vote. She noted that the Senate voted in favor of most recent version of the abortion bill with a veto-proof majority in November and said she saw no reason to change it now. 

“One month ago we stood up to assert our commitment to reproductive health care for all people,” Chandler said. “This body overwhelmingly approved a set of policies that will codify and expand the right to abortion care. We specifically ensured that young people ages 16 to 17 can already make every decision about their pregnancy except to terminate it are allowed to terminate a pregnancy on their own terms.”

“In short, we approved policies to ensure that the choice to receive an abortion is a decision between a patient and their doctor and that politics and government do not impose an overly burdensome restriction to this right,” she later added. “That, my colleagues, is the spirit of Roe v. Wade, and I am proud to legislate in its spirit.”

Roe v. Wade is the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion nationwide. Supporters of the new Massachusetts abortion bill suggest that if the current conservative majority on the court overturns Roe v. Wade, it could undermine access to abortion in Massachusetts. Skeptics question that argument, noting that the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court in 1981 declared abortion a fundamental right according to the state constitution, that the court leans left now, that state law currently favors abortion, and that the overwhelming majority of state legislators support legal abortion.

One of those pro-legal-abortion legislators is Tarr, a Republican, who sided with Baker on the amendment.

“The governor of the Commonwealth has repeatedly demonstrated his commitment to the reproductive rights in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and his action … in sending this amendment to us … is no exception,” Tarr said. “Mr. President, the amendment that is offered to us and its several components does not eliminate the majority of the substantive components of the measure that was adopted by the House and Senate. Mr. President, it reflects a commitment from the governor to do what I believe the majority of us agree about and that is the protection of reproductive rights.

“He did, in fact, recommend that the age of consent for the securing of an abortion be consistent with the age of consent for other medical procedures in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts,” Tarr later added of Baker.

The original ROE Act bill, which never got a vote out of a legislative committee that studied it over the course of a year and a half, called for eliminating parental consent at any age, eliminating language in current state law requiring that abortions after 24 weeks take place in a hospital, eliminating the current requirement that a doctor try to save the life of a baby born alive after an attempted abortion, and expanding public funding for abortion, among other things.

It also sought to expand the definition of legal abortion in Massachusetts beyond 24 weeks to include cases where “an abortion is warranted because of a lethal fetal anomaly incompatible with sustained life outside the uterus.” State law currently allows for abortion after 24 weeks “to preserve the patient’s physical or mental health.”

The new version of the bill restores the concept of parental and judicial consent but lowers the age of girls needing it from 17 and younger currently to 15 and younger if the bill passes.

The new version of the bill also require that abortions after 24 weeks take place in the presence of lifesaving equipment, but it still eliminates language from current Massachusetts law that requires doctors to attempt to save the life of a baby born alive after an attempted abortion. The legislation would do so by repealing Section 12P of Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 112, which states:

Section 12P. If an abortion is performed pursuant to section twelve M, the physician performing the abortion shall take all reasonable steps, both during and subsequent to the abortion, in keeping with good medical practice, consistent with the procedure being used, to preserve the life and health of the aborted child. Such steps shall include the presence of life-supporting equipment, as defined by the department of public health, in the room where the abortion is to be performed.

The Massachusetts House on Wednesday, December 16 voted 49-107 to reject Baker’s amendments. The House also rejected 30-120 an amendment offered by two Republicans that would have required doctors to try to save the life of a baby born alive after an attempted abortion.

The House and Senate still have to vote to enact the abortion bill before sending it to Baker. That won’t happen until at least Monday, December 21. Whenever both chambers have voted to enact the bill, it would go back to the governor. He would have 10 days at that point either to sign it, let it become law without his signature, or veto it.

If the governor vetoes the bill, then supporters in theory have until Tuesday, January 5 to override it with two-thirds majorities in both chambers. If the votes occur, the Senate is likely to do so by a comfortable margin. The House margin is much closer.