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Governor Baker vetoes bill to protect and expand abortion access in Mass.

Governor Charlie Baker.
Governor Charlie Baker.Suzanne Kreiter/Globe staff

Governor Charlie Baker vetoed a measure intended to protect and expand abortion access in Massachusetts on Thursday, declining to let 16-year-olds and 17-year-olds get abortions without parental consent.

He also sided with antiabortion opponents of the bill, who suggested the language of the measure would allow more late abortions than the activists who championed it were acknowledging.

“As I said in my amendment letter I strongly support a woman’s right to access reproductive health care, and many provisions of this bill,” Baker wrote in his veto message. “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 a parent or guardian.”

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Baker had already amended the language of the measure in an effort to strike several provisions. However within the past week, both chambers of the Legislature rejected Baker’s version and voted overwhelmingly to restore their original language.

The move by the Republican governor volleys the issue back to the Democratic-led Legislature. A spokeswoman for House Speaker Robert DeLeo said he will seek a vote to override the veto.

The measure passed in both the House and Senate by supermajorities large enough to override the measure. The Legislature is continuing its formal session through Jan. 5.

The chairman of the Massachusetts Republican Party, an antiabortion activist, lauded the move and its timing on Christmas Eve.

“Gov. Baker correctly recognized that this legislation simply goes too far, and he should be applauded for standing up and saying ‘no’ to the abortion lobby,” Jim Lyons said in a statement. “Gov. Baker’s decision, made the day before millions celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, should send a message to the lawmakers that this legislation has no place in a humane society.”

The Catholic Action League called Baker’s veto “compelling evidence of just how extreme this legislation is.”

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Meanwhile, the chair of the Massachusetts Democratic Party issued a scathing statement criticizing Baker for vetoing the measure on Christmas Eve.

“Hoping that we would all be too busy to notice, Charlie Baker once again caved in to the extreme right-wing of his Republican Party by vetoing critical abortion access provisions that would put our laws in line with neighboring states like Maine, New York and Connecticut,” Democratic chairman Gus Bickford said in a statement.

The governor, however, had previously complained about legislative subterfuge by noting that the abortion measure had been slipped into an entirely unrelated state budget bill.

The Legislature had aimed to codify abortion access in Massachusetts in anticipation of national changes to abortion rights under a newly conservative Supreme Court. In addition, the measure they passed expands access to abortion in two ways — lowering the age at which someone can get an abortion to 16, and extending the timeframe for abortions beyond 24 weeks in cases in which the fetus cannot survive.

Under current Massachusetts law, no one under 18 can get an abortion without parental consent or the approval of a judge. And abortions are only permitted after 24 weeks to save a patient’s life or if the continued pregnancy would impose “a substantial risk of grave impairment of her physical or mental health.”

Reproductive rights advocates had campaigned for the change, saying that Massachusetts patients who get devastating fetal diagnoses late in pregnancy should not have to either continue a doomed pregnancy to term or travel to a state like Colorado that allows the late procedure. The ROE Act Coalition, which had pushed for the provision, called the governor’s veto a “callous and dangerous disregard” for people’s health and wellbeing.

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“With this veto, the Governor has made plain that he has no problem imposing medically unnecessary barriers that delay and deny care, and forcing families to fly across the country to get compassionate care,” wrote the coalition, founded by the ACLU of Massachusetts, NARAL Pro-Choice Massachusetts, and Planned Parenthood Advocacy Fund of Massachusetts.

The abortion measure had wedged Baker, a moderate Republican who has publicly criticized the extremes of the Trump administration, into an uncomfortable partisan corner. The MassGOP, under Lyons, campaigned ferociously against expanding abortion access. Baker had tried to thread the needle by expressing support for a woman’s right to abortion while objecting to specific features of the abortion expansion.


Stephanie Ebbert can be reached at Stephanie.Ebbert@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @StephanieEbbert.