Baker refuses to sign abortion provision
Rejects lowering age of parental consent
GOV. CHARLIE BAKER rejected a provision in the Legislature’s budget bill lowering the age of parental consent for an abortion from 18 to 16 and tweaked other language narrowing when late-term abortions would be allowed.
Baker regards himself as a strong supporter of a woman’s access to reproductive health care, but the amendment he filed to the budget bill prompted a sharp retort from groups seeking to expand access to abortion at a time when the makeup of the US Supreme Court, which guaranteed access to abortion with its Roe v Wade decision in 1973, has changed substantially.
A coalition of abortion rights groups, which calls itself the ROE Act Coalition and includes NARAL Pro-Choice Massachusetts and Planned Parenthood Advocacy Fund of Massachusetts, said in a statement that they are “deeply disappointed by Governor Baker’s failure to recognize the urgent need to improve access to care.”
“His amendment pushes abortion care out of reach for many, especially for people with low-incomes and communities of color,” the coalition said, urging lawmakers to reject Baker’s amendment. “The governor cannot have it both ways: He cannot call himself pro-choice and keep anti-choice restrictions in place.”
Baker spokeswoman Lizzy Guyton issued a statement noting the governor has previously signed into law several provisions protecting abortion rights and supports some of the provisions in the Legislature’s budget that will further protect reproductive rights. “However, he cannot support the sections of this proposal that expand the availability of later-term abortions and permits minors age 16 and 17 to get an abortion without the consent of a parent or guardian,” she said.
As part of the fiscal 2021 state budget, which Baker signed Friday, lawmakers included a provision lowering the age of consent to 16 and expanding access to abortion when a fetus is older than 24 weeks in cases of a “lethal fetal anomaly.”
Top House and Senate leaders said the provisions were needed to safeguard access to abortion no matter what the US Supreme Court does.
Baker, who has line item veto power over the budget, did not sign the abortion provision, but returned it to the Legislature with a proposed amendment.
Baker wrote in his message returning the provision that he supports broad language affirming the right to an abortion in Massachusetts and favors allowing an abortion after 24 weeks when the fetus would not survive after birth. However, Baker said he would not support allowing a 16 or 17-year-old to get an abortion without parental or judicial consent.
Guyton said Baker would go along with slight changes the Legislature made regarding the process of parental and judicial consent, such as allowing a minor to get consent from one parent instead of two.
He also wants to tighten language regarding other late-term abortions, done in cases that do not involve a fatal birth defect. The legislative language states that abortion can be done after 24 weeks to preserve the patient’s life, or “to preserve the patient’s physical or mental health.” Baker wants to change that language to say abortions will only be performed at that time when continuing a pregnancy would pose a “substantial risk” to the mother’s physical or mental health.
Baker’s language appears to be a compromise between what the Legislature passed and current law, which allows a late-term abortion to save the life of the mother or when continuing a pregnancy would impose “a substantial risk of grave impairment of her physical or mental health.”
The House maintained current criminal penalties for violating the abortion law, while the House-Senate conference committee removed all penalties. Baker wants to modify existing penalties for violating the law so they are civil, not criminal.
Lawmakers need to take a two-thirds vote to override Baker’s vetoes. The House approved the conference committee budget report in a 147 to 10 vote, while the Senate approved it unanimously. The abortion amendments in both branches also passed easily. Although Democrats maintain super-majorities in both houses, it is not clear that legislative leaders can hold together all of those votes when it comes to overriding the governor’s veto on an abortion provision.Several Republicans who voted against the abortion language in the House questioned why it needed to be incorporated into the state budget during a lame duck session, rather than passed as a standalone bill. Baker had previously echoed their concern.
The amendment also drew opposition from pro-life religious leaders. More than 400 pastors recently signed a letter to Baker urging him to veto the provision, and leaders in the Catholic Church also spoke out against it.