HOUSE SPEAKER Robert DeLeo said late last week that he would frown on lawmakers using the budget as a vehicle for major policy reforms, but he backed off that stance yesterday in announcing a reproductive rights amendment sponsored by Rep. Claire Cronin of Easton would be taken up during budget deliberations this week.
Cronin’s amendment is similar but differs in some respects from the so-called ROE Act, which is currently sitting in the Legislature’s Judiciary Committee. Cronin chairs that committee.
In a statement, DeLeo said it was “urgent that the House take up an immediate measure to remove barriers to women’s reproductive health options and protect the concepts enshrined in Roe v. Wade.”
Last week he told the Massachusetts Association of Health Plans “that the budget is not an appropriate place for major policy reform,” and that policy reforms should go through the regular committee process, according to the State House News Service.
Like the ROE Act, Cronin’s amendment would allow for abortions after 24 weeks in cases where the fetus has been diagnosed with a fatal birth anomoly. Current law only allows abortions to occur after 24 weeks when the life of the mother is at risk.
The Cronin amendment requires the Department of Public Heath to collect data on abortions, which would include when and where abortions are performed, the ages of patients, methods used to perform the termination, and the gestational age when abortions are performed.
The Cronin amendment does not include the ROE Act’s provision of health insurance coverage for abortions for low-income residents, particularly those not eligible for MassHealth.
The amendment also does not entirely waive the requirement for a minor to get parental consent or a judge’s approval before getting a termination of pregnancy, as the ROE Act does. It would lower the age of consent for an abortion from 18 to 16.
Patients seeking abortions under the age of 16 must still get the consent of a parent or guardian.
Cronin could not be reached for comment on the differences between her bill and the ROE Act.
More than half of the members of the House and Senate support the ROE Act. The Judiciary Committee set a deadline of November 12 to make recommendations on any bills before the end of the two-year session.
The confirmation of Amy Coney Barrett to the US Supreme Court has added urgency to state lawmakers’ wish to pass some kind of reproductive rights legislation, given concerns the nation’s highest court could rule in an abortion case.
DeLeo and Senate President Karen Spilka announced last week that the two branches will take up abortion access legislation during the lame duck session that runs until the end of the year.
The ROE Act Coalition, a group comprised of organizations like ACLU of Massachusetts, NARAL Pro-Choice Massachusetts, and Planned Parenthood Advocacy, say they are “incredibly grateful” that Cronin is “working to protect reproductive freedom.”
The group noted that every ROE Act cosponsor was re-elected last Tuesday, and that residents also “voted out anti-abortion legislators, they made it clear that they want state lawmakers to remove medically unnecessary barriers to abortion care.”
Massachusetts Citizens for Life, which strongly opposes the bill, could not be reached for comment. The group has previously said the bill “endangers women’s health and radically reduces Massachusetts’ standards of medical care.”
Republican Gov. Charlie Baker has expressed concerns over the legislation, and is opposed to late-term abortions.