Here’s Why Karen Spilka Didn’t Allow Third-Trimester Down Syndrome Abortions In Senate Abortion Bill

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When it comes to abortion, the Massachusetts Senate and Massachusetts House of Representatives have a disagreement.

Should it be legal to have an abortion after 24 weeks in Massachusetts in cases of severe fetal anomalies?

The Massachusetts House of Representatives passed a bill (H.4954) 136-17 that would allow for it. Meanwhile, the Massachusetts Senate (S.2996) abortion expansion bill doesn’t include that provision; the Senate bill passed unanimously on Wednesday evening. 

Why is that? What got in the way?

Could it be Senate President Karen Spilka?

One Beacon Hill insider says it is.

As NewBostonPost reported when the House of Representatives first introduced its bill, severe fetal anomalies would most likely include unborn babies with Down Syndrome. The World Health Organization considers Down Syndrome a severe birth defect, and third-trimester abortions have been performed in Kansas via a severe fetal anomaly exemption.

Senate President Spilka, meanwhile, has a personal connection to Down Syndrome. Spilka was the legal guardian to her sister, Susan, who had Down Syndrome, for 26 years, according to the Massachusetts Municipal Association, Susan died in 2017, according to her obituary.

“What I’ve been told is that she finds the House bill to be pretty egregious, too,” a Beacon Hill observer said. “It almost seems like you’re trying to eliminate Down Syndrome children from society and that is reprehensible.”

“They find it to be a step too far, and I think it is, too.”

The source also told NewBostonPost that other state senators “worked really hard to make sure that wasn’t in” the Senate’s version of the bill.

Earlier this month, a different person who works on Beacon Hill told NewBostonPost that members of the Massachusetts House of Representatives did not know how to respond to NewBostonPost’s claim that allowing for abortion after 24 weeks in the case of severe fetal anomalies would allow for third-trimester abortions of unborn babies with Down Syndrome.

Down Syndrome is a genetic disorder that causes mental disability and limits life expectancy to about 60.

The federal Centers for Disease Control offers this description of Down Syndrome:


Down syndrome is a condition in which a person has an extra chromosome. Chromosomes are small “packages” of genes in the body. They determine how a baby’s body forms and functions as it grows during pregnancy and after birth. Typically, a baby is born with 46 chromosomes. Babies with Down syndrome have an extra copy of one of these chromosomes, chromosome 21. A medical term for having an extra copy of a chromosome is ‘trisomy.’ Down syndrome is also referred to as Trisomy 21. This extra copy changes how the baby’s body and brain develop, which can cause both mental and physical challenges for the baby.


Spilka is an ardent supporter of legal abortion and has called it a “fundamental right.”

“ABORTION REMAINS AND WILL REMAIN LEGAL IN MASS,” Spilka tweeted the day the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. “This fundamental right is here to stay in the Commonwealth, & I will fight every day to strengthen & protect it.”

Her tweet came one month after Spilka said that restricting abortion would make women “second-class citizens.”

“We will not go quietly,” Spilka told State House News Service in May. “We will not go into a devastating future that seeks to treat us as second-class citizens.”

In December 2020, Spilka voted for the ROE Act bill. The bill eliminated parental consent for 16- and 17-year-old minors seeking abortion, stripped born-alive protections from newborn babies that survive abortions, and allowed for abortion after 24 weeks in the case of fatal fetal anomalies, as NewBostonPost previously reported.

Spilka isn’t the only ardent supporter of abortion who took issue with allowing abortion after 24 weeks in the case of “severe” fetal anomalies.

State Senator Cindy Friedman (D-Arlington), who in July 2019 the past stopped a pro-lifer from video recording a legislative committee hearing on Beacon Hill, told State House News Service that there is concern on Beacon Hill that the “severe” provision could take things too far.

“I’ve heard from my colleagues and I’ve heard from outside the building that people are concerned when you put in a word like ‘severe’ with no real clear definition, what are you talking about?” Friedman said, according to State House News Service. “Does it open a door wider than people are comfortable with? I respect that, and I think we need to — again, this is a very, very short timeframe, and right now, what I see as the absolute critical piece of this is to make sure our providers are protected and women who come here for an abortion are protected.”

So what would the Senate bill actually do?

A few things.

It says that the Massachusetts state government won’t cooperate with out-of-state investigations and litigation when it comes to women traveling to the Commonwealth to have an abortion. And it would mandate that health insurance providers cover abortions without co-pays. Unlike the House bill, it would not allow for emergency contraception (Plan B) to be adminstered over the counter by a pharmacist without a prescription. However, it would allow registered pharmacists to dispense hormonal contraceptives — including pills and patches — to adults without a prescription. 

Spilka’s office could not be reached for comment on Tuesday, Wednesday, or Friday this week. 


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