AP NEWS

Abortion debate again taking center stage on Beacon Hill

April 6, 2019

BOSTON (AP) — The thorny question of abortion rights is again taking center stage on Beacon Hill and putting some top officials in an uncomfortable spot, chief among them Gov. Charlie Baker.

This week Baker, a Republican who supports abortion rights, celebrated the signing of a bill approving $8 million to offset the potential loss of federal funding to women’s reproductive health organizations under a new Trump administration rule. That rule, dubbed a “gag rule” by critics, would prohibit federally funded family planning clinics from making abortion referrals or sharing office space with abortion providers.

No sooner had Baker praised efforts by lawmakers to close any funding gap in the Title X program than he was asked about another bill aimed at expanding access to abortion.

The bill — called the “ROE Act” by supporters — would allow women to obtain an abortion after 24 weeks of pregnancy in cases of “fatal fetal anomalies.” State law currently allows abortions after 24 weeks only if needed to preserve the life or health of the mother. The bill would also eliminate the requirement that teenagers obtain permission from a parent or judge before obtaining an abortion.

Massachusetts GOP Party Chairman Jim Lyons criticized what he called “the radical Democrats in the House and Senate supporting infanticide.”

“The extreme infanticide bill removes all practical limitations on aborting unborn babies. These abortions are frequently referred to as late-term or partial-birth abortions,” Lyons said in a statement.

Lyons also opposed allowing teens to obtain an abortion without the permission of a parent of judge.

“Can it really be that a decision by someone under 18 to have an abortion is less significant or traumatizing than smoking a cigarette, drinking a beer, or visiting a tanning salon?” Lyons said.

Although Baker said he opposes late-term abortions and supports current abortion laws in Massachusetts, he said he wasn’t comfortable with incendiary political rhetoric and tried to distance himself from Lyons’ words.

“I don’t believe in questioning motive, I don’t believe in questioning character, and I think the inflated language that exists on all sides in politics has made it much harder for people to do the work that they’re supposed to do on behalf of the people they serve,” Baker told reporters.

Democrats also bristled at Lyons’ comments.

“Just like Donald Trump, Massachusetts Republicans are using lies and fear-mongering in an effort to deny women the fundamental right to access health care and make their own reproductive health decisions,” state Democratic Party Chairman Gus Bickford said in a statement.

Rebecca Hart Holder, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Massachusetts, disagreed with Baker, saying current state abortion laws don’t provide enough protections.

“Today, Massachusetts women facing a lethal fetal diagnosis later in pregnancy must travel out-of-state and pay exorbitant costs to receive later abortion care, away from their home, their families, and their support systems,” Holder said in a statement.

The Senate and House versions of the bill were filed by Sen. Harriette Chandler and Rep. Pat Haddad — both Democrats.

Separate versions of the legislation have been filed in the Massachusetts House and Senate. Neither has come up for a public hearing. The House version has more than 100 House and Senate co-sponsors — more than half the 200-member Legislature.

Democratic House Speaker Robert DeLeo didn’t sound in a rush to bring up the bill for a vote. He told reporters the bill is “just another piece of legislation” filed this session.

“We’ll see what happens as it goes through the process and we’ll take it up from there,” DeLeo said this week, adding that lawmakers are focused on other items including the state budget and legislation that would prohibit LGBTQ conversion therapy for minors in Massachusetts.

Massachusetts last year abolished an unenforced ban on abortion with roots dating to 1845. Lawmakers also pushed through legislation signed by Baker that abolished other old statutes that prohibited unmarried women from using contraceptives, and made adultery and fornication criminal offenses.

Abortion rights supporters pressed for the removal of the law out of fear that Brett Kavanaugh — then a nominee for the U.S. Supreme Court — could tilt the court toward undoing abortion protections in place since the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling. Kavanaugh was later confirmed to the court.