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Petition to block state taxpayer funding for abortions falls short

For the third time in five years, a petition drive aimed at ending state taxpayer funding for abortions has failed to garner the support it needed to land on the election ballot.
For the third time in five years, a petition drive aimed at ending state taxpayer funding for abortions has failed to garner the support it needed to land on the election ballot.Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff

For the third time in five years, a petition drive aimed at ending state taxpayer funding for abortions has failed to garner the support it needed to land on the election ballot.

The Massachusetts Alliance to Stop Taxpayer Funded Abortion alerted supporters Tuesday that its petition-gathering drive had not reached the threshold necessary to start the process to amend the constitution by ballot question.

Taxpayer funding for abortions is prohibited on the federal level by the so-called Hyde Amendment (except in cases of rape, incest, or to save the life of the mother.) But Massachusetts is one of 16 states where abortions are covered by Medicaid. The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled in 1981 that women eligible for Medicaid have a constitutionally protected right to an abortion.

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A spokeswoman for the secretary of state’s office said the signatures are not yet tallied but confirmed that the proponents believe they fell short based on the numbers reported by local election officials.

Chairman Thomas Harvey put the count at 58,559 signatures, far short of the 80,239 required (as a percentage of the turnout in the last election).

The coalition made similar efforts in 2015 and 2017 but failed to gather enough signatures.

The loss comes at a time when other states are aggressively dialing back abortion rights. Massachusetts is among the states where legislators are reaffirming abortion rights and trying to expand abortion access through a bill dubbed the Roe Act. Harvey said attention will now turn to beating back that effort.

Proponents of that measure took comfort that the initiative fell short. “Massachusetts voters have once again rejected the extreme effort to restrict access to safe, legal abortion, reaffirming our Commonwealth’s commitment to protecting accessible health care for all people,” said the ACLU Massachusetts, NARAL Pro-Choice Massachusetts, and Planned Parenthood Advocacy Fund of Massachusetts.

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