Governor Charlie Baker, a rare Republican elected official who supports the right to abortion, signed an executive order Friday that he says will “protect reproductive health care providers who serve out-of-state residents.”
The order, signed in response to a Supreme Court ruling that ended constitutional protections for abortion, bans executive state agencies from assisting another state’s investigation into a person or group for receiving or performing abortions that are legal in Massachusetts or extraditing those patients or providers. The order addresses laws imposed in states that criminalize abortions and other services.
His order also protects Massachusetts abortion providers from losing their professional licenses or receiving other professional discipline based on potential out-of-state charges.
Baker, who ran and won in three statewide Republican primaries as a supporter of abortion rights, said in a statement Friday that “the Commonwealth has long been a leader in protecting a woman’s right to choose and access to reproductive health services, while other states have criminalized or otherwise restricted access.”
The Swampscott resident, who is not running for reelection, was one of the only Republican governors in the country to take such a stance in response to the Supreme Court ruling, putting a spotlight on Baker’s brand of socially liberal, fiscally moderate Republicanism — a long-held Massachusetts tradition that appears to be fading away.
His order was even applauded by the state’s Planned Parenthood League, a backing few GOP governors can claim.
But the governor’s success as a pro-choice Republican looks to be a vestige of a time nearly gone. While Massachusetts led the nation on near-universal health insurance under Republican leadership, the current party, which shunned Baker after he denounced Donald Trump, has taken a hard right turn and has brought divisive social issues to the front, including the right to reproductive care.
Antiabortion activist David Bereit, who founded international organization 40 Days for Life, received rousing applause after he gave a speech at the state party’s convention in Springfield last month, where he spoke at length about his work closing abortion clinics. Both GOP candidates for governor oppose abortion rights, and Jim Lyons, the chairman of the party, said in a statement Friday that “inflicting pain and death on another living, developing individual is not a right protected by the Constitution, no matter how warped the Democrats’ logic may be.”
Geoff Diehl, the GOP gubernatorial front-runner whom the party nominated last month, said Friday that he and his running mate, former state representative Leah Allen, “support the court’s decision for its proper interpretation of our Constitution, which takes the question of abortion and places it in the province of the states, where it belongs.”
Chris Doughty, a Wrentham businessman and Diehl’s primary opponent, has said he leans against abortion rights, while understanding they are protected in Massachusetts.
To successfully run as a Republican in Massachusetts, one has to appeal to both moderate Democrats and unenrolled voters, who make up the largest voter block. That means carrying on the Massachusetts tradition of leading on progressive social issues, said Beth Lindstrom, who served in former governor Mitt Romney’s administration, managed Scott Brown’s successful 2010 US Senate campaign, and ran for US Senate herself in 2018.
“You can run as a candidate on certain principles but when you are elected, you have to support your state,” she said. “Are we going to have someone step up like [Baker] in the future? That is a very good question.”
Baker’s type of politicking is a brand chief of staff Tim Buckley says will outlast Baker. After all, he didn’t write the playbook.
“Charlie Baker didn’t invent the moderate Republican winning coalition in Massachusetts,” Buckley said. “It’s been the norm much longer than what you are currently hearing from the party.”
After the Supreme Court ruling, Baker expressed deep disappointment with the decision and said it “will have major consequences for women across the country who live in states with limited access to reproductive health care services.”
Abortion remains legal in Massachusetts and the rest of New England. Under state law, abortion is legal until 24 weeks of pregnancy, and after that in some narrow circumstances.
Buckley said Baker’s politics on abortion can be traced back to his mother, a Democrat who was passionate about reproductive rights. There was no growing up in that household without seeing her side of it, he said.
He said the point of the order was to “provide certainty for people out there who may be feeling some anxiety after this decision.”
In recent years, Massachusetts has expanded access to abortion and repealed old antiabortion measures, helping ensure it remains legal here regardless of federal judicial action. In 2020, abortion rights were expanded and formally codified in state law, despite Baker’s veto of the legislation, dubbed the Roe Act.
At the time, Baker said he “strongly” supported aspects of the legislation, but vetoed it because he said he 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.”
On GBH’s Boston Public Radio on Friday afternoon, Attorney General Maura Healey, the presumptive Democratic nominee for governor, praised Baker’s executive order.
She grew emotional, slamming the high court ruling as “an assault achieved by right-wing ideologues.”
“We are going to fight back on this,” she said. “It is a goddamn shame. . . . This is a terrible direction for our country. It doesn’t leave us without options, though.”