DeLeo, Spilka promise abortion debate in lame duck session

See threat to women’s reproductive rights at national level

A clarification has been added to this story about current law.

MASSACHUSETTS HOUSE SPEAKER Robert DeLeo and Senate President Karen Spilka announced on Monday that the two branches will take up abortion access legislation during the lame duck session that runs until the end of the year.

“We are very concerned that Massachusetts’ women’s reproductive rights are under threat at the national level,” said DeLeo and Spilka in a joint statement. “We are therefore committed to debate measures in the House and Senate this session that would remove barriers to women’s reproductive health options and protect the concepts enshrined in Roe v. Wade.”

It is not clear what removing barriers means specifically, but it’s likely the legislation would deal with at least some of the provisions in the so-called ROE Act, which would expand access to abortion, require health insurance coverage for abortions to be covered for low-income residents not eligible for MassHealth, and allow for abortions after 24 weeks in cases where the fetus has been diagnosed with a fatal birth defect. Current law only allows abortions to occur after 24 weeks when the life of the mother is at risk, “or if a continuation of her pregnancy will impose on her a substantial risk of grave impairment of her physical or mental health.”

The ROE Act also removes the requirement for a minor to get parental consent or a judge’s approval before getting an abortion.

Senate President Emerita Harriette Chandler sponsored the Senate version of the bill, and Rep. Patricia Haddad of Somerset and Rep. Jay Livingstone of Boston co-sponsored the House version. More than half of the members of the House and Senate support the legislation.

The Judiciary Committee, which is currently reviewing the legislation, has set a deadline of November 12 to make recommendations on any bills before the end of the two-year session.

A coalition of advocacy groups that includes Planned Parenthood of Massachusetts, NARAL Pro-Choice Massachusetts, and the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts has been calling for the bill’s passage with renewed fervor since the death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who was a strong abortions rights voice on the court. The confirmation of Amy Coney Barrett, who has spoken out against abortion in the past, has added urgency.

“We are grateful that the Speaker and Senate President recognize that, regardless of the outcome of the presidential election, the United States Supreme Court is poised to gut or overturn Roe v. Wade,” said Rebecca Hart Holder, Executive Director of NARAL Pro-Choice Massachusetts. “The laws on our books today were written by anti-choice legislators in 1974 whose sole aim was to prevent women from choose if, when, and how to become a parent.”

The debate on abortion will occur during a lame duck session – after a new Legislature is elected but before it takes office in January. Lawmakers have a number of items on their plate, including policing reform, climate change, a fiscal 2021 budget, and other measures.

Meet the Author

Sarah Betancourt

Reporter, CommonWealth

About Sarah Betancourt

Sarah Betancourt is a long-time Latina reporter in Massachusetts. Prior to joining Commonwealth, Sarah was a breaking news reporter for The Associated Press in Boston, and a correspondent with The Boston Globe and The Guardian. She has written about immigration, incarceration, and health policy for outlets like NBC, The Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism, and the New York Law Journal. Sarah has reported stories such as a national look at teacher shortages, how databases are used by police departments to procure information on immigrants, and uncovered the spread of an infectious disease in children at a family detention center. She has covered the State House, local and national politics, crime and general assignment.

Sarah received a 2018 Investigative Reporters and Editors Award for her role in the ProPublica/NPR story, “They Got Hurt at Work and Then They Got Deported,” which explored how Florida employers and insurance companies were getting out of paying workers compensation benefits by using a state law to ensure injured undocumented workers were arrested or deported. Sarah attended Emerson College for a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Communication, and Columbia University for a fellowship and Master’s degree with the Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism.

About Sarah Betancourt

Sarah Betancourt is a long-time Latina reporter in Massachusetts. Prior to joining Commonwealth, Sarah was a breaking news reporter for The Associated Press in Boston, and a correspondent with The Boston Globe and The Guardian. She has written about immigration, incarceration, and health policy for outlets like NBC, The Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism, and the New York Law Journal. Sarah has reported stories such as a national look at teacher shortages, how databases are used by police departments to procure information on immigrants, and uncovered the spread of an infectious disease in children at a family detention center. She has covered the State House, local and national politics, crime and general assignment.

Sarah received a 2018 Investigative Reporters and Editors Award for her role in the ProPublica/NPR story, “They Got Hurt at Work and Then They Got Deported,” which explored how Florida employers and insurance companies were getting out of paying workers compensation benefits by using a state law to ensure injured undocumented workers were arrested or deported. Sarah attended Emerson College for a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Communication, and Columbia University for a fellowship and Master’s degree with the Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism.

Massachusetts Citizens for Life, which strongly opposes the bill, could not be reached for comment. The group has previously said the bill “endangers women’s health and radically reduces Massachusetts’ standards of medical care.”

Republican Gov. Charlie Baker has expressed concerns over the legislation, and is opposed to late-term abortions.