Baker returns plan for abortion access to Legislature

Gov. Baker announced opposition last week to allowing 16 and 17 year olds in Massachusetts to acquire abortions without consent from a parent or a judge, setting up a potential battle with the Legislature’s Democratic supermajority even as he supported other abortion-access proposals.

Baker returned the abortion policy section of the fiscal 2021 budget with a proposed amendment on Friday, offering a mixed review of what landed on his desk and seeking to change rather than reject the package.

He supported several sections, such as the codification of abortion rights in state law and a provision allowing the procedure after 24 weeks of pregnancy in cases with a fatal fetal anomaly.

“These are important changes to protect a women’s reproductive rights and autonomy in the Commonwealth, and I support them,” Baker wrote in a letter to lawmakers Friday. “However, I cannot support the other ways that this section expands the availability of late-term abortions and permits minors age 16 and 17 to get an abortion without the consent of a parent or guardian.”

The Republican governor proposed an amendment to the Legislature’s abortion language, which had been built on the so-called ROE Act, placing the onus back on Democratic House and Senate leaders with only three weeks left in the two-year lawmaking session.

Lawmakers can agree to Baker’s proposed changes, amend them further, or double down on the proposal they originally passed and send that back to the governor.

Under the spending bill compromise that lawmakers sent to Baker last week, which the governor signed, Massachusetts would have lowered the age to receive an abortion without parental or judicial consent from 18 to 16, effectively granting 16 and 17 year olds the ability to seek the procedure on their own.

Activists had argued that setting the threshold at 18 forces teenagers who survived incest or who do not have supportive families to face a difficult situation, caught between approaching parents who might react negatively or the sometimes traumatic judicial system.