Massachusetts House and Senate Consider Overriding Baker’s Abortion Bill Veto

Gov. Charlie Baker. (Photograph by Chris Van Buskirk/SHNS.)

The Massachusetts House and Senate are back in session today with legislators pondering whether to override Gov. Charlie Baker’s veto last week of a bill codifying the right to an abortion in state law expanding access for women after 24 weeks of pregnancy.

Known as the ROE Act, the bill would also lower the age of consent for an abortion to 16, which the Republican governor said he “cannot support.” The Christmas Eve action by the governor kicks the issue back to the legislature, where Baker said he hopes Democrats will reconsider his compromise proposal. After rejecting his proposed amendments, leadership in both the House and Senate are more likely to seek to override the governor within the next two weeks and appear to have the votes, even if by just a narrow margin.

Baker vetoed the legislation, which was originally included in the annual state budget, on Thursday afternoon, two days after the legislature returned the abortion measure unchanged to his desk.

In his letter to lawmakers, Baker said he “strongly” supports a woman’s right to access reproductive health care, including the provision in the bill that would make abortions available after 24 weeks of pregnancy if the fetus would not survive after birth.

He also said he supports eliminating the 24-hour waiting period for an abortion and changes to the judicial bypass process to make abortions more accessible to minors who cannot obtain parental consent.

The legislature’s version of the bill would also permit abortions after 24 weeks “if it is necessary, in the best medical judgment of the physician, to preserve the patient’s physical or mental health.”

Baker proposed to change the qualifying condition for a later-term abortion to “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 abortion measure picked up steam following the death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg. Democratic leaders argued the nomination by President Donald Trump and confirmation of Justice Amy Coney Barrett put the legal right to an abortion established by Roe v. Wade in jeopardy, and warranted state-level action.

Conservative critics of the bill have blasted Democrats for seeking to expand abortion, with the chairman of the Massachusetts Republican Party Jim Lyons likening the bill’s provisions to “infanticide” and other opponents questioning whether 16 is too young to make such a decision alone.

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