SCOTUS ruling cited in late-session ROE Act push

Boston Statehouse
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BOSTON (SHNS) – Attorney General Maura Healey and Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley plan on Tuesday to try to rattle Beacon Hill, where legislation known as the ROE Act governing access to abortion has been bottled up in a Democrat-controlled committee for more than 18 months despite widespread support.

Supporters of the bill are pointing to a June 29 Supreme Court ruling striking down an anti-abortion restriction in Louisiana as a victory, while adding that “it doesn’t change the fact that abortion still remains inaccessible for thousands of people nationwide, including countless right here in Massachusetts.”

The Massachusetts bill (H 3320/S 1209), which has spent the 2019-2020 session in the Judiciary Committee, would eliminate parental consent requirements for teenagers seeking an abortion. It would also allow for abortions after 24 weeks to protect the physical or mental health of a patient or in cases of diagnosed lethal fetal anomalies, and require “safety net” health insurance coverage for abortions for Massachusetts residents ineligible for MassHealth.

The bill’s parental consent provision is one that has drawn criticism, and opposition. Less than 2 percent of the 18,256 abortions performed in Massachusetts in 2018 were for minors, and 77 percent of those young women had parental consent, according to bill sponsors.

Healey and Pressley, along with state Reps. Tram Nguyen and Jon Santiago, plan to hold a virtual rally at noon Tuesday to analyze the ruling in the Lousiana case, what it means for abortion access in here, and to call for action “to end unconscionable barriers to care that are entrenched in our state laws.”

House Speaker Pro Tempore Patricia Haddad and Senate President Emerita Harriette Chandler are the lead sponsors of the House and Senate bills, and the long list of bill cosponsors includes Rep. Claire Cronin and Sen. Jamie Eldridge, co-chairs of the Judiciary Committee. The bill has failed to move out of that committee all session despite overwhelming support among lawmakers, and the panel has extended its deadline to make a recommendation on the bill until July 31, the last day of formal sessions for this year.

The bill’s odds of moving during informal sessions are low since there are opponents of the legislation.

One hundred and four legislators have co-sponsored the bill, including 22 in the Senate and 92 in the House, the News Service reported last year, and bill backers say they’ve since added a supporter in each branch due to the results of special elections.

Still, abortion opponents last year expressed optimism about defeating the bill, and, so far, the bill has failed to advance.

“Once it’s explained, the majority of people in my district don’t support this. At least the ones who have contacted me,” Rep. David DeCoste, a Norwell Republican, told the News Service in October 2019.

As lawmakers held a lengthy hearing on the bill last June, Speaker Robert DeLeo said he wanted to wait for a committee recommendation. Senate President Karen Spilka also said at the time that she would review the committee testimony and talk to senators “and we’ll see where it goes.”

“I’m with my colleagues over here in the sense that I’m anxious to hear the testimony and the conversation,” Gov. Charlie Baker, standing with DeLeo and Spilka, said in June 2019

Baker said at the time that he’s a “big believer in the positions and the stances that Massachusetts has taken, almost always on a bipartisan basis, to support women’s access to reproductive rights.” He also said he had “concerns” about eliminating parental notification requirements and the language on late-term abortions.

Cronin, the Judiciary Committee co-chair, is the point person on major legislation being crafted this month to address policing tactics and justice reforms.

Under legislative rules, the committee had been due to make a determination on the bill in February, but extended its deadline to May and then again to July 31.

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