Baker signs abortion rights bill
Includes provider protections and late-term abortion language
GOV. CHARLIE BAKER on Friday signed into law a sweeping abortion rights bill that protects health care providers from prosecutions by other states, requires insurers to fully cover abortion services, and clarifies the circumstances under which abortion is legal after 24 weeks.
Baker is a Republican who generally supports abortion rights, but he has battled with reproductive rights advocates in the past over the details of prior abortion rights legislation.
Baker strongly supported parts of the bill that protected Massachusetts health care providers, including many of the same provisions in an executive order hours after the US Supreme Court released the Dobbs decision overturning the constitutional right to an abortion it had articulated in the landmark 1973 Roe v Wade case. But lawmakers and activists were uncertain whether Baker would sign language clarifying that abortion after 24 weeks is allowed when there is “a grave fetal diagnosis that indicates that the fetus is incompatible with sustained life outside of the uterus without extraordinary medical interventions.” In 2020, Baker vetoed an abortion rights bill, partly over concerns related to the circumstances under which abortions would be permitted after 24 weeks.
In a statement, the governor did not refer to that provision but stressed the importance of protecting abortion rights in Massachusetts post-Roe. “Massachusetts remains steadfast in its commitment to protect access to reproductive health care services, especially in the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s decision overturning Roe v. Wade,” Baker said. “The Court’s decision has major consequences for women across the country who live in states with limited access to these services, and our administration took quick action in the hours following that decision by issuing an executive order to protect access here in the Commonwealth. This new legislation signed today builds on that action by protecting patients and providers from legal interference from more restrictive laws in other states. We are grateful for the compromise and dedication to the issue that our legislative colleagues demonstrated to make this important, bipartisan law a reality.”
The law requires insurers to cover abortion without copays. It requires college health services to provide students with medication abortion or refer students to a clinic where they can get it.
It makes emergency contraception available over the counter at a pharmacy.
The bill also clarifies the circumstances under which someone can get an abortion after 24 weeks. A law passed in 2020 allowed abortions at that stage to protect a mother’s life or health or because of “a lethal fetal anomaly.” But after the Boston Globe published the story of Kate Dineen, who had to travel out of state to abort a 33-week-old pregnancy after the fetus suffered a catastrophic stroke, advocates pushed to clarify the language and allow abortion in additional cases.
The bill also lets abortion providers keep their home address confidential for security reasons, by participating in a program run by the secretary of the Commonwealth that is used for things like keeping the addresses of domestic violence victims hidden.
House Speaker Ron Mariano and Senate President Karen Spilka, both Democrats, celebrated the bill becoming law. “I am very proud that, with the signing of this legislation, Massachusetts will continue to be a national leader in protecting and defending the rights of our residents and of those people who come here seeking access to health care,” Spilka said in a statement.
Mariano said, “In the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s decision to ignore nearly 50 years of judicial precedent and overturn Roe v. Wade, and as states across the country move to restrict access to abortion, I’m incredibly proud of the fact that elected officials in Massachusetts have acted to ensure that the Commonwealth can serve as a safe haven for women seeking reproductive health care services, and for providers whose licenses could be at risk because of laws passed in other states.”
Abortion rights advocates also cheered Baker’s signing of the law.
Dr. Jennifer Childs-Roshak, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts, said Massachusetts is “setting a national example for expanding abortion access” in the face of the Dobbs decision. “This is a huge victory for patients and providers, who deserve the ability to seek, access, or deliver reproductive health care without fear or shame,” she said.
Opposition to the bill came in large part from Republicans, and from the socially conservative Massachusetts Family Institute. The final bill passed the House 137 to 16, with five Democrats and 11 Republicans in opposition, and the Senate 39 to one, with Republican Sen. Ryan Fattman in opposition.Andrew Beckwith, president of the Massachusetts Family Institute, called it a “radical abortion bill” that turns Massachusetts into an “abortion sanctuary,” eliminates safety requirement around the distribution of abortion pills, and give immunity to providers who provide or prescribe abortion medication through the mail or using telehealth in states where abortion is illegal.