Massachusetts House overrides governor's veto of abortion bill

Massachusetts Republican Gov. Charlie Baker participates in a signing ceremony of a bill that mandates state insurers to provide contraception coverage on Nov. 20, 2017 at the Massachusetts State House in Boston.
Massachusetts Republican Gov. Charlie Baker participates in a signing ceremony of a bill that mandates state insurers to provide contraception coverage on Nov. 20, 2017 at the Massachusetts State House in Boston. | (Photo: Twitter / @MassGovernor)

Just days after Gov. Charlie Baker vetoed a bill that would expand abortion access in Massachusetts, the state’s Democrat-led House of Representatives has voted to override the veto.

Last week, Baker, a Republican who supports abortion, elected to veto abortion legislation known as the ROE Act. The bill, which was originally included as part of the state’s budget for fiscal year 2021, would codify the 1973 Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion nationwide into law and loosen abortion restrictions in the state.

“I strongly support a woman’s right to access reproductive health care, and many provisions of this bill,” Baker wrote in a letter to state lawmakers explaining his decision. “However I cannot support the sections of this proposal that expand the availability of later-term abortions and permit minors age 16 and 17 to get an abortion without the consent of the parent or guardian.”

The House of Representatives voted 107-46 Monday to override Baker’s veto of the bill, just barely exceeding the two-thirds majority required to overcome a gubernatorial veto. The Massachusetts Senate, where Democrats outnumber Republicans 36 to 4, is expected to follow suit, meaning that the ROE Act could very well become law in spite of Baker’s veto.

The Senate has until Jan. 5, when the current legislative session expires, to override the veto. If enacted, Massachusetts will become the 14th state to pass a law establishing a right to abortion that would remain in effect if the Roe v. Wade decision was ever reversed. According to the pro-abortion Guttmacher Institute, the others are California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Nevada, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington.

Even before issuing a veto of the ROE Act, Baker had expressed concerns about the legislation and offered amendments to the bill. While he described the provisions in the bill calling for the codification of Roe v. Wade into law and allowing abortions after 24 weeks in cases of a fatal fetal anomaly as “important changes to protect a women’s rights and autonomy in the commonwealth,” he offered an amendment that would remove language enabling 16- and 17-year-olds to get abortions without their parents’ consent.

Additionally, Baker asked lawmakers to consider changing the language in a provision of the bill that allows abortions to take place after 24 weeks gestation “if it is necessary, in the best medical judgment of the physician, to preserve the patient’s physical or mental health” to read “if a continuation of the pregnancy will impose, in the best medical judgment of the physician, a substantial risk to the patient’s physical or mental health.”

The legislature rejected Baker’s amendments and sent the abortion legislation to his desk as a standalone measure, which he vetoed. The pro-life group Massachusetts Citizens for Life praised Baker’s veto, arguing that it would “limit violence against women & babies.” The group also noticed that his veto coincided with Christmas Eve and slammed Democratic House Speaker Bob DeLeo for “putting #abortion special interest over #womenslives & babies lives.”

The ROE Act is one of several efforts put forward by lawmakers in Democrat-run states to pass liberalized abortion laws. In early 2019, New York passed the Reproductive Health Act, which allows abortion up to the moment of birth for any reason.

Shortly after President Donald Trump announced his nomination of pro-life Judge Amy Coney Barrett to serve on the United States Supreme Court, New Jersey Democrats rallied around the Reproductive Freedom Act, which would codify Roe v. Wade into law and require insurance companies to cover abortions and contraception at no out-of-pocket cost to patients. No action has been taken on the bill, which has been referred to the Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee.

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