DeLeo, Spilka commit to reproductive rights debate

Boston Statehouse

Outside the House Chamber after the governor’s State of the State speech, Senate President Karen Spilka said she is “thrilled the governor is joining us” on a push for net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. House Speaker Robert DeLeo said that is “something also that the House will be supporting as well.” (Photo: SHNS)

BOSTON (SHNS) – State lawmakers will take up legislation related to abortion and reproductive health care at some point in the next two months, Democratic leaders announced Monday, setting the table for a rare high-profile debate after elections are complete.

With legislation governing abortion access hung up in committee since early 2019, House Speaker Robert DeLeo and Senate President Karen Spilka said in a brief joint statement that they are “committed” to holding debate by the end of the current lawmaking session, though they offered few details on what shape the legislation will take.

Reproductive health care advocates have been increasing the pressure on Beacon Hill to expand access to abortion and other services after U.S. Senate Republicans confirmed Justice Amy Coney Barrett to the U.S. Supreme Court.

“We are very concerned that Massachusetts’ women’s reproductive rights are under threat at the national level,” DeLeo and Spilka said. “We are therefore committed to debate measures in the House and Senate this session that would remove barriers to women’s reproductive health options and protect the concepts enshrined in Roe v. Wade.”

It is not clear if DeLeo and Spilka were referring to the so-called ROE Act (H 3320 / S 1209), which would eliminate parental consent requirements for teenagers seeking abortions, permit abortions after 24 weeks of pregnancy in limited cases, and require insurance coverage of abortions for state residents who are not eligible for MassHealth.

Those bills have been cosponsored by a majority of members in each branch, but they have been sitting before the Judiciary Committee for more than a year. The joint announcement expands the field of legislation in play for the lame-duck stretch between Tuesday’s general elections and the start of the next two-year lawmaking session in January.

Legislative leaders normally halt formal business at the end of July in election years, but they agreed this year to continue formal sessions amid the pandemic.

Both branches have met only in lightly attended informal sessions since August.

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