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Massachusetts House OKs measure codifying abortion rights

November 13, 2020 GMT

BOSTON (AP) — The Massachusetts House approved a measure Thursday aimed at codifying abortion rights into state law, adding it on as an amendment to their version of the proposed state budget.

The measure would let women obtain an abortion after 24 weeks of pregnancy in cases of “fatal fetal anomalies.” Current state law allows abortions after 24 weeks only to preserve the life or health of the mother.

It would also lower to 16 the age at which an abortion could be obtained without the permission of a parent. Under current law, those under 18 must have at least one parent’s consent or seek judicial consent to have an abortion.

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The amendment still requires those under 16 to obtain parental consent or obtain a “judicial bypass” to obtain an abortion.

The measure was adopted Thursday evening on a 108-49 vote.

Backers of the proposal were eager to add the language to the budget to help ensure its passage this year in part because of the approval of conservative-leaning judges to the U.S. Supreme Court, which they say could weaken or overturn the Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion nationwide.

“In the wake of the threat to reproductive rights for women on the national level, I’m proud of the House vote to remove barriers to women’s reproductive health options and protect the concepts enshrined in Roe v. Wade,” Democratic House Speaker Robert DeLeo said in a statement Thursday night.

The measure also directs the Department of Public Health to collect data on abortions performed by physicians, physician assistants, certified nurse practitioners, or certified nurse-midwives.

Republicans criticized Democratic leaders in the chamber for tacking on a major policy change in the budget during a pandemic.

Republican Gov. Charlie Baker declined to discuss the budget proposal since it hasn’t reached his desk yet, but said he agreed with the concerns about taking up the proposal as a budget amendment.

“I do share some of the unhappiness that was raised by a number of members of the Republican party that putting policy in the budget was something that both leaders in the House and Senate said they would not do and it’s pretty hard to argue that this isn’t a major policy initiative that is now in the budget,” Baker said. “This is definitely doing policy in the budget.”

Baker has previously said he opposes late-term abortions and supports current Massachusetts abortion laws.

An aide to Democratic Senate President Karen Spilka said Thursday the Senate will consider the measure as a budget amendment next week when it takes up its own budget proposal.

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The approval of the amendment came as the House debated and then passed a long-overdue $46 billion state budget plan that would avoid new broad-based taxes while dipping even deeper into the state’s rainy day fund than what Baker has proposed.

Action on the budget was delayed by the onset of the coronavirus in the spring. Typically, the new state budget is approved by lawmakers and signed by the governor by the start of the new fiscal year July 1.

But efforts to rein in the spread of the virus pushed back work on the budget and forced the state to rely on temporary interim budgets until a final spending plan is approved.

Baker restarted the budget process last month by submitting a new spending plan for the current 2021 fiscal year. Baker said he hopes to have a budget plan back from lawmakers by Thanksgiving.