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Abortion foes can collect ballot question signatures for now

September 22, 2021 GMT

BOSTON (AP) — Activists who support a proposed ballot question that would require all reasonable medical steps be taken to preserve the life of a child born alive in Massachusetts are getting a second chance to begin collecting signatures to put the proposal before voters next year.

Attorney General Maura Healey’s office initially ruled the question did not qualify for the ballot.

But the state’s highest court agreed to let supporters begin collecting signatures as it weighs the question, which has roots in opposition to recent changes expanding the state’s abortion laws. Those include allowing later-term abortions in certain circumstances.

The question would add a new section to state law stating that “if a child is born alive, all reasonable steps, in keeping with good medical practice, shall be taken to preserve the life of the child born alive.”

Officials in Healey’s office called the question “so ambiguous that it is impossible to determine, or inform potential voters of, the proposed law’s meaning.”

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Despite Healey’s decision, supporters of the question have been granted a preliminary injunction by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court allowing them to begin gathering signatures.

The court has yet to decide on the merits of Healey’s decision and could still rule that the question doesn’t meet constitutional muster even after signatures have been collected.

“There’s nothing at all ambiguous about a law guaranteeing newborns access to medical care, and we’re glad the state Supreme Judicial Court agreed to grant us a preliminary injunction so we can move forward,” said Bernadette Lyons, chairwoman of the Massachusetts Newborn Protection Coalition, in a press release earlier this month. The organization is sponsoring the measure. Lyons is the wife of state Republican Party Chair Jim Lyons.

Last December, Democrats on Beacon Hill successfully pushed to expand access to abortion in the state.

The measure, known as the Roe Act, allows abortions after 24 weeks of pregnancy in cases where the child will not survive after birth and lowers from 18 to 16 the age at which women can seek an abortion without consent from a parent or guardian.