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Abortion access policies become law in Massachusetts despite Governor Baker’s veto

Massachusetts State House in Boston.Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff

Abortion rights will be formally codified in state law, and access to the procedure will be expanded after the Senate on Tuesday joined the House in overriding Governor Charlie Baker’s veto of the legislation.

The Senate reaffirmed its support for the abortion access measures on a 32-8 vote, one day after the House’s 107-46 vote.

The bill, initially passed within the state budget and then returned by Baker with amendments that lawmakers ultimately rejected, will allow abortions after 24 weeks of pregnancy in cases with a fatal fetal anomaly and if “necessary, in the best medical judgment of the physician, to preserve the patient’s physical or mental health.” It would also lower from 18 to 16 the age at which individuals can seek an abortion without consent from a parent or a judge.


“Beginning today, pregnant people who once faced near insurmountable barriers accessing abortion care can now seize the right to control their own bodies,” said Senate President Emerita Harriette Chandler, who filed one of the bills on which the budget language was based. She said supporters had been pushing for the changes for two years.

The ROE Act Coalition said the reforms mean that “no Bay State family who receives a devastating diagnosis later in pregnancy will ever be forced to fly across the country to access compassionate care and no 16- or 17-year-old will ever be forced to navigate the court system to access the health care they need.”

In his veto message last week, Baker said he “strongly” supports the right to access reproductive health care, but could not support sections “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.”

For most of the two-year session, legislation referred to as the ROE Act sat before the Judiciary Committee untouched after a lengthy and heated hearing.


Bill supporters raised the pressure to act on reproductive rights at the state level after Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died in September and the Republican-controlled US Senate confirmed Justice Amy Coney Barrett to the US Supreme Court, widely viewed as a step that could jeopardize the precedent set in Roe v. Wade.

The legislation will enshrine abortion rights in state law, which backers argue is a crucial protection if the Supreme Court changes any protections granted under Roe v. Wade.

Supporters have said the existing threshold of 18 forces some teenagers — who can legally consent to sex once they reach 16 — either to face a potentially unsupportive family or the stigmatizing experience of going to court in order to get permission for an abortion.

Baker said he supported several sections of the bill, including reforms to the judicial bypass system and eliminating the 24-hour waiting period for an abortion, but he bristled at reducing the age of consent by two years and sought more restrictive language around abortions after 24 weeks.

Baker’s veto drew criticism from Democrats and reproductive rights activists.

“Charlie Baker’s cowardice doesn’t take a break for the holidays. 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,” Massachusetts Democratic Party Chair Gus Bickford said in response. “Charlie Baker is choosing to stand with right-wing extremists, instead of doctors, women, and the vast majority of voters in Massachusetts.”


Within Baker’s own party, the timing of the veto was also noted.

“Governor 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,” said Massachusetts Republican Party Chair Jim Lyons, with whom Baker has clashed in the past. “Governor 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.”

Massachusetts Citizens for Life said it mobilized thousands of people since Thanksgiving to pressure Baker.