Legislators have sent to the Massachusetts governor a $46.2 billion full-year budget plan that includes provisions to expand access to abortion, additions which have drawn strong pro-life criticism.
An amendment to the budget bill would allow 16-year-olds to obtain an abortion without parental consent, a change from the current age of 18 years. Minors under the age of 16 could obtain a judicial bypass waiver to get an abortion without parental consent. A waiver could be granted via teleconference, according to the bill’s sponsor, State House News Service reported.
The provisions would also allow abortions after 24 weeks into pregnancy, even to the point of birth, for diagnosed fatal anomalies. Under the proposed amendment, physician assistants, nurse practitioners, and nurse midwives could perform abortions.
Despite Democratic leaders' statements appearing to reject major policy riders, the budget bill includes these and other abortion provisions. Also included is some of the language of the “Roe Act,” a 2019 proposal to maintain legal abortion if Roe v. Wade and other pro-abortion precedents were to be overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court.
The abortion proposals did not draw much comment in the Senate session, though Republican lawmakers were critical of it elsewhere, the news site MassLive reports.
House Minority Leader Brad Jones criticized the use of the budget process to pass an abortion amendment.
“I don't care what side of the issue you're on, this being done as part of the budget process in a lame duck session, under the cover of darkness, in the midst of a pandemic is wrong,” Jones said last month, according to State House News Service.
Democratic State Sen. Marc Pacheco, who opposed the budget bill, speculated that Republican Gov. Baker could return the bill to lawmakers with amendments and further extend debate on the bill, the Boston Globe reports.
Baker is a pro-abortion Republican. The Planned Parenthood Advocacy Fund was neutral in the governor's 2018 reelection campaign, and it is not clear whether he will run for a third term in 2022.
However, he voiced disapproval of the proposed Roe Act's abortion expansion last year.
“I don’t support late-term abortions,” Baker said. “I support current law here in Massachusetts.”
In 2017 the governor pledged state funds would make up any shortfalls in cuts to Planned Parenthood's federal funding. In 2018 he challenged the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Protect Life Rule, which blocks recipients of Title X family planning funds from performing or making referrals for abortions. He also approved the repeal of a 19th century law that criminalized abortion.
The Massachusetts Catholic Conference had sought to rally voters to ask their senators to vote against the budget amendment. On Nov. 11 the conference said amendment would “expand abortion access in the Commonwealth well beyond what is enshrined in state law.” Under the changes, abortion “would remain an option under certain circumstances for the full term of the pregnancy.”
The conference stressed that “the Catholic Church teaches that life itself starts at conception and ends with natural death.”
The Catholic conference criticized the proposed changes to parental consent law, arguing that “a 16 or 17 year old girl would be deprived of the guidance and support of an adult at the time of making this life changing decision.”
While the measure does require “life-saving equipment” to be present in the room when an abortion is performed past 24 weeks, the conference suggested this is a toothless requirement. The amendment’s language is “nuanced enough that the physician would not be required to use the equipment” if a baby survived an abortion attempt.
In addition, the bill calls for life-saving equipment to be in the room when a doctor performs a legal late-term abortion, but only says the equipment is to “enable” the doctor to safe the life of a baby surviving an abortion. Pro-life groups have warned that the language allows “passive infanticide” by not specifically requiring a doctor to save the infant’s life.
The amendment to the larger budget bill was adopted by the state House by a 108-49 vote, State House News Service reported. A dozen Democrats voted against the amendment, while one Republican voted for it. On Nov. 18, the state Senate passed amendment 180 by a vote of 33-7.
Though the full budget bill passed the House, it did not have enough votes to prevent a veto.
Michael New, a visiting professor of political science and social research at The Catholic University of America, testified against the Roe Act's proposal to reduce the age of consent. The current law, he estimated, has saved 10,000 to 44,000 lives from abortion.
In his review of 16 peer-reviewed studies, every one “finds that state-level parental involvement laws reduce the in-state abortion rate for minors,” he said in his testimony.