Abortion Bill Passes, As Massachusetts Senate Completes Override of Charlie Baker’s Veto

Printed from: https://newbostonpost.com/2020/12/29/abortion-bill-passes-as-massachusetts-senate-completes-override-of-charlie-bakers-veto/

Some Democrats opposed it, virtually every Republican opposed it, but an abortion expansion bill (H.5179) will be the law of the land in Massachusetts.

Without any debate or statements on the bill, the Massachusetts Senate voted 32-8 on Tuesday afternoon to override the veto of the state’s Republican governor, Charlie Baker, who vetoed the bill on Christmas Eve.

All four Republicans voted against the veto override:  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 in the Massachusetts Senate joined them in voting against the override:   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 Senate override vote comes one day after the Massachusetts House of Representatives voted 107-46 to override Baker. State Representative James Kelcourse (R-Amesbury) and state Representative Susannah Whipps (U-Athol) joined 105 Democrats to vote in favor of the override while 16 Democrats joined 30 Republicans to vote against it.

The bill supporters voted in favor of expands the definition of legal abortion in Massachusetts beyond 24 weeks in 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 bill lowers the age of those who need parental or judicial consent to obtain an abortion from 17 and younger to 15 and younger. And it eliminates language from existing Massachusetts law that requires doctors to try to save the life of a baby born alive after an attempted abortion. 

The legislation does 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.

Initially, it looked as though the ROE Act abortion bill might not pass this year since, in a normal year, formal sessions end on July 31. However, the Massachusetts Legislature extended formal sessions amid the coronavirus emergency, in part to complete the state’s fiscal year 2021 budget bill.

“No one can predict what might happen over the next five weeks, much less the next five months,” Democratic House Speaker Robert DeLeo told The Associated Press back in July. “While we are cautiously optimistic that we will maintain the gains we have made here in the Commonwealth since the spring, we must remain prepared to address critical issues related to the health, safety and economic well-being of the Commonwealth when and if they arise over the next five months.”

Democrats in the legislature tried to put a version of the ROE Act bill into the fiscal year 2021 budget. Baker signed the rest of the budget but rejected the abortion amendment as drafted, sending it back with amendments of his own. The governor wanted to keep the current requirement in state law that 16-year-old and 17-year-old girls obtain permission from a parent or a judge to get an abortion, and he also wanted to tighten the language describing under what circumstances an abortion after 24 weeks can take place.

The governor’s action separated the abortion legislation from the budget bill, creating a new budget bill. State legislators in both chambers rejected Baker’s amendments and sent it back to him for an up-or-down decision. Baker on December 24 vetoed the bill.

The House overrode Baker’s veto on Monday, December 28, 107 to 46, a little more than the two-thirds required.

The Senate’s 32-8 vote to override on Tuesday, December 29 is comfortably above the two-thirds margin needed.

The original version of the ROE Act bill never received a vote out of committee, standard procedure for a bill to come up for a vote on the House and Senate floors in the state. That’s the case even though the committee held a hearing on it on June 17, 2019. The bill entered the Joint Committee on the Judiciary on January 22, 2019, 707 days ago.