Baker again clashes with lawmakers on abortion-related law

Signs $3.76b economic development bill, vetoes crisis pregnancy campaign

GOV. CHARLIE BAKER on Thursday signed a $3.76 billion economic development bill. But Baker, a Republican, once again entered into a controversy with the Democratic-led Legislature over reproductive rights by vetoing an education campaign about crisis pregnancy centers.  

Crisis pregnancy centers are organizations, often faith-based, that provide resources to pregnant women and counsel them about their options in a way that discourages them from getting an abortion. In some cases, these centers have run deceptive advertising, implying that they offer abortion services when they do not. Particularly since Roe v. Wade was overturned, abortion rights organizations have worried that women seeking abortions will be drawn to crisis pregnancy centers without realizing what the organizations do. 

The Legislature, as part of its economic development bill, appropriated $17.5 million for organizations that provide reproductive health care, including abortion care, to spend on hiring, security, and education. That money included a $1 million education campaign regarding crisis pregnancy centers.  

Baker left the $16.5 million earmarked for reproductive health organizations but vetoed the $1 million public awareness campaign as well as language requiring the state to publish a list of providers that offer “legitimate” family planning services. The state already maintains such a list. 

 “I am striking language that earmarks funding for a program not recommended. The information required to be published by this earmark is already publicly available from the state,” Baker said in his veto message. 

The veto came two days after Democrats won every statewide office in Massachusetts, with Maura Healey, a strong supporter of abortion rights, winning the governorship after Baker chose not to seek reelection. But the timing had more to do with legislative action than the election, since the Legislature passed the bill November 3, which gave Baker until November 13 to act. His veto cannot be overridden because the Legislature is only meeting in informal sessions the remainder of the year.

Rebecca Hart Holder, president of Reproductive Equity Now, an abortion rights advocacy group, said in a statement that the organization is “extremely disappointed” in Baker’s veto. “Crisis pregnancy centers are the forefront of the anti-abortion movement, and this funding would have been majorly impactful in ensuring people know where to access legitimate abortion care throughout the Commonwealth,” Hart Holder said. Hart Holder said Baker is “wildly out of step with his constituents” and while he calls himself “pro-choice,” she said “his use of his veto power proves otherwise.” 

Nate Horwitz-Willis, executive director of the Planned Parenthood Advocacy Fund of Massachusetts, said in a statement, “Everyone deserves access to medically-accurate, non-judgmental health care and anti-abortion crisis pregnancy centers jeopardize that care. To realize reproductive freedom and make reproductive health care equitably accessible, we need to address and prevent dangerous misinformation about abortion care.”

The proposed campaign received attention from a national organization that opposes abortion rights. Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America, issued a statement earlier this month defending the work pregnancy centers do, noting that they serve women and families regardless of race, religion, or socioeconomic status. “Unlike the profit-driven abortion industry, they typically rely on private generosity and provide vital services at low cost or no cost,” she said. 

Andrew Beckwith, president of the socially conservative Massachusetts Family Institute, accused lawmakers of “a million-dollar smear campaign attacking the life-saving work of [pregnancy resource centers] with lies and harassment.” 

Baker is a supporter of abortion rights and took steps immediately after the overturning of Roe v. Wade to protect Massachusetts clinicians who provide abortions to patients visiting from out of state. But he has also clashed with Democrats in the Legislature before on abortion-related laws. 

Baker vetoed the so-called ROE Act, a bill that expanded abortion rights in Massachusetts, because he disagreed with provisions making it easier for minors to get an abortion and allowing abortion after 24 weeks in certain cases. The Legislature overrode his veto.  

Baker did sign an abortion-related bill in 2022 after the US Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade codifying provider protections into law.  

Separate from the abortion debate, Baker signed almost the entire bill, which includes massive expenditures on business development, housing, health and human services, climate resiliency, transportation, childcare, and more.   

“This legislation will make strategic investments in economic development, increase affordable housing production and support our health care system,” Baker said in a statement. 

Baker reiterated his disappointment that the bill does not include tax breaks that lawmakers and the governor had previously proposed, which got stripped out in the bill’s final version as the Legislature pushed the tax debate into next year.   

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Shira Schoenberg

Reporter, CommonWealth

About Shira Schoenberg

Shira Schoenberg is a reporter at CommonWealth magazine. Shira previously worked for more than seven years at the Springfield Republican/MassLive.com where she covered state politics and elections, covering topics as diverse as the launch of the legal marijuana industry, problems with the state's foster care system and the elections of U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Gov. Charlie Baker. Shira won the Massachusetts Bar Association's 2018 award for Excellence in Legal Journalism and has had several stories win awards from the New England Newspaper and Press Association. Shira covered the 2012 New Hampshire presidential primary for the Boston Globe. Before that, she worked for the Concord (N.H.) Monitor, where she wrote about state government, City Hall and Barack Obama's 2008 New Hampshire primary campaign. Shira holds a master's degree from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism.

About Shira Schoenberg

Shira Schoenberg is a reporter at CommonWealth magazine. Shira previously worked for more than seven years at the Springfield Republican/MassLive.com where she covered state politics and elections, covering topics as diverse as the launch of the legal marijuana industry, problems with the state's foster care system and the elections of U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Gov. Charlie Baker. Shira won the Massachusetts Bar Association's 2018 award for Excellence in Legal Journalism and has had several stories win awards from the New England Newspaper and Press Association. Shira covered the 2012 New Hampshire presidential primary for the Boston Globe. Before that, she worked for the Concord (N.H.) Monitor, where she wrote about state government, City Hall and Barack Obama's 2008 New Hampshire primary campaign. Shira holds a master's degree from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism.

The governor made one fiscally significant veto, stripping out a provision that would have capped spending of money from the federal American Rescue Plan Act at $510 million. That money must be appropriated by 2024 and spent by 2026, so Baker wants the flexibility to spend more ARPA money more quickly. His action does not increase the total spending but would give the administration flexibility to spend the time-sensitive federal money first instead of state surplus money.  

Baker also vetoed sections that would have let public colleges and universities retain tuition dollars to spend on their own campuses, rather than sending the money back to the general fund. Baker said those types of changes “are better advanced in conjunction with the annual budget process and should be considered as part of a comprehensive public higher education finance reform effort, not made piecemeal.”