Massachusetts lawmakers pass amendment to allow late-term abortion, remove parental consent

Boston, Massachusetts, state House | Wikipedia/Ajay Suresh licensed under CC BY 2.0

Lawmakers in Massachusetts have approved an amendment to the state’s budget that will loosen abortion restrictions to allow late-term abortions and remove the parental consent requirement for underage girls. 

The amendment, known as Amendment 759 in the Massachusetts House of Representatives and Amendment 180 in the Massachusetts Senate, was crafted after efforts to pass a standalone bill liberalizing the state’s abortion laws failed to gain traction. The amendment would change Massachusetts' abortion law to allow late-term abortions and repeal parental consent laws.

Under current law, only a physician can perform an abortion in Massachusetts. However, the budget amendment passed by state lawmakers would enable physician assistants, nurse practitioners or midwives to perform abortions.

Massachusetts law currently states that “if a pregnancy has existed for twenty-four weeks or more, no abortion may be performed except by a physician and only if it is necessary to save the life of the mother, or if a continuation of her pregnancy will impose on her a substantial risk of grave impairment of her physical or mental health.”

Should the amendment passed by the legislature become law, abortions would be permitted after 24 weeks if “in the best medical judgment of the physician, an abortion is warranted because of a lethal fetal anomaly that is incompatible with sustained life outside the uterus.”

While current Massachusetts law requires physicians performing abortions to “preserve the life and health of the child,” the amendment would remove that requirement, only requiring “the presence of life-supporting equipment” in the room where the abortion would take place. 

In addition, the requirement for girls younger than 18 to obtain parental consent for an abortion would be amended to allow a judge to authorize a medical professional to perform an abortion on a girl younger than 16 if she does not want to seek a parent’s consent.

The Massachusetts House approved Amendment 759 by a vote of 108-49 last week. In a statement following the amendment’s passage, state House Speaker Robert DeLeo said he was “proud of the House vote to remove barriers for women’s reproductive health options and protect the concepts enshrined in Roe v. Wade.”

The state Senate approved Amendment 180 Wednesday with 33 senators voting in favor and seven voting against it. All four Republicans in the state Senate voted against the measure, as did three Democrats. The amendment now heads to Republican Gov. Charlie Baker’s desk.

In the past, Baker has expressed opposition to late-term abortion, stressing his support for the existing abortion laws in the state, which he said have “worked well for decades for women and families here in Massachusetts.”

Even if Baker vetoes the amendment, the legislature would likely have the votes necessary to override a gubernatorial veto as more than two-thirds of legislators in both houses supported the measure. Pro-life groups have already begun putting pressure on Baker to veto the amendment.

Massachusetts Citizens for Life took to Twitter Wednesday to urge pro-lifers in the state to “call, tweet, and Facebook Governor Baker asking him to veto this underhanded attempt to promote #abortion.” Even before the House and Senate passed the pro-abortion budget amendment, a group of more than 300 pastors wrote to Baker, telling him: “You have the power, the duty, to stop this legislation from becoming law in Massachusetts, and we urge you to do so.”

Meanwhile, pro-abortion groups celebrated the passage of the amendment. NARAL Pro-Choice MA praised the legislature for taking “another critical step towards removing medically unnecessary barriers to abortion care in Massachusetts,” adding, “in Massachusetts, we can be proud knowing our leaders are working to protect and expand reproductive freedom.”

The Planned Parenthood Advocacy Fund of Massachusetts had a similar reaction, describing the passage of the amendment as a “major victory worth celebrating” and a sign that “we’re closer than ever to upholding Massachusetts’ reputation as a national leader in public health and making the Commonwealth resilient against federal attacks on reproductive freedom.”

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