The Massachusetts House on Wednesday rejected Governor Charlie Baker’s amendment to their abortion measure and restored language they’d originally adopted, allowing patients as young as 16 to get abortions without parental consent.
A supermajority, 107 members, voted against the governor’s changes, while 49 voted for them.
“The House today reaffirmed its long-standing commitment to protecting reproductive rights in Massachusetts under threat by changes in the makeup of the US Supreme Court,” House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo said in a statement. ”The House acted to keep intact those provisions in Massachusetts that safeguard reproductive choices for all.”
The Democratic-led Legislature included the measure in the state’s $45.9 billion budget bill in order to guarantee abortion access in Massachusetts, in anticipation of national changes to abortion rights under a newly conservative Supreme Court. The language would codify into state law the right to an abortion, which has been guaranteed by the court’s ruling in Roe v. Wade since 1973.
It also would lower the age threshold for obtaining an abortion from 18 to 16 years old. Anyone younger must obtain parental consent or an order from a judge for the procedure. And it would allow abortions after 24 weeks if there is a “lethal fetal anomaly,” or if the fetus is incompatible with sustained life outside the uterus.
Abortions that late in pregnancy are currently only permitted in Massachusetts to save a patient’s life or in cases where the pregnancy would impose “a substantial risk of grave impairment of her physical or mental health.” The measure also slightly adjusts that language, to say it would allow abortions after 24 weeks if a doctor judges it necessary to “preserve” the patient’s life or her physical or mental health.
Representative Sheila Harrington, a Groton Republican, urged her colleagues to reject that language.
“We’re playing God if we are becoming the arbiters of whether the mother’s mental health preservation is more important than that baby’s life,” Harrington said.
But Representative Claire Cronin, who cochairs the Joint Committee on the Judiciary that handled the abortion law changes, called for restoring legislators’ language to eliminate barriers to reproductive rights.
Advocates had originally proposed removing the age limit entirely, but Cronin noted that legislators had compromised and retained a requirement of parental or judicial consent for those younger than 16. And she pointed to a “logical reason why we lowered the age from 18 to 16.”
“In Massachusetts, the age of consent for a minor is 16. What that means is under current Massachusetts law, a 16-year-old can consent to engage in sexual relations,” said Cronin, an Easton Democrat. “It is logically consistent that a young woman who becomes pregnant at 16 should have the same Constitutional right to control her health care as any other pregnant woman.”
A Suffolk University/Boston Globe poll of 500 Massachusetts residents released last week found mixed support for the abortion law changes, with much stronger support for late abortions in cases of fetal anomalies. Fifty-six percent of respondents backed late abortions in cases of fetal anomalies, while 25 percent opposed it.
Poll respondents were more divided on lowering the age threshold, however, with 48 percent supporting it, and 40 percent opposed.
Baker had amended but not vetoed the measure last week and sent it back to lawmakers. If the Senate votes in keeping with the House, as expected as soon as Friday, Baker could veto the controversial measure outright. However, both chambers passed the language with majorities strong enough to override a veto.
“The Senate remains firmly committed to protecting the reproductive freedom of the residents of Massachusetts,” Senate President Karen Spilka said in a statement. “We therefore look forward to acting promptly on the Governor’s amendment once we receive it from the House.”
Though Baker supports abortion rights, he had balked at removing the parental consent requirement for 16- and 17-year-olds. The Massachusetts Republican Party, led by an antiabortion activist and former legislator, Jim Lyons, opposed any expansion of abortion rights and campaigned against Democrats who were promoting similar abortion changes last year.
Legislators did not take up the legislation until after the November election, but action accelerated after the seating of Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett cemented a conservative majority on the Supreme Court.