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In 'Monumental Win for Reproductive Freedom,' Mass. Lawmakers Override Governor's Veto to Affirm and Expand Abortion Rights

A coalition of supporters celebrated the development as "an important step in removing medically unnecessary barriers to abortion care."

Along with the nationwide #RuthSentUs action, the Boston Red Cloaks staged a protest on the steps of the Massachusetts State House in Boston on October 25, 2020 to oppose plans to replace Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and ask lawmakers to pass the ROE Act. (Photo: Pat Greenhouse/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

Along with the nationwide #RuthSentUs action, the Boston Red Cloaks staged a protest on the steps of the Massachusetts State House in Boston on October 25, 2020 to oppose plans to replace Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and ask lawmakers to pass the ROE Act. (Photo: Pat Greenhouse/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

Reproductive rights advocates in Massachusetts and across the country celebrated on Tuesday after lawmakers in the commonwealth's Senate joined with those in the House to override Gov. Charlie Baker's veto of legislation to address what critics called "medically unnecessary and politically motivated barriers to abortion care."

The Senate's 32-8 vote came a day after the House's 107-46 vote; a two-thirds majority was required in both chambers to override Baker's veto. Initially passed as part of the fiscal year 2021 budget, the pared-down version of the ROE Act (H.5179) reaffirmed by Massachusetts legislators codifies abortion rights into law, allows abortions after 24 weeks in cases of fatal fetal anomaly or if the pregnant person's health is affected, and enables anyone age 16 or older to choose to terminate a pregnancy.

Earlier this month, Baker expressed support for the measure's language on abortion access and fatal fetal anomalies, which he called "important changes to protect... reproductive rights and autonomy in the commonwealth," but also said that he couldn't support expanding the availability of abortions later in pregnancy or permitting minors to get such procedures without the consent of a parent or judge—a position he reiterated when announcing his widely anticipated veto.

The ROE Act Coalition—a statewide alliance that worked to pass the legislation whose founding organizations include the ACLU of Massachusetts, NARAL Pro-Choice Massachusetts, and Planned Parenthood Advocacy Fund of Massachusetts—released a joint statement Tuesday welcoming the lawmakers' override votes.

"The passage of these reforms to improve abortion access is a historic milestone for reproductive freedom in Massachusetts," the statement said. "Today, the commonwealth reestablished itself as a national leader in healthcare by removing political barriers to abortion and becoming the first state to legislatively ease burdensome restrictions on young people's access to care."

"The legislature's leadership means no Bay State family who receives a devastating diagnosis later in pregnancy will ever be forced to fly across the country to access compassionate care and no 16- or 17-year-old will ever be forced to navigate the court system to access the healthcare they need," the coalition continued. "This legislation will significantly improve the health and well-being of Massachusetts residents and represents an important step in removing medically unnecessary barriers to abortion care in our state."

The coalition thanked Democratic Massachusetts lawmakers who have fought for the legislation, particularly Senate President Emerita Harriette Chandler, Speaker Pro Tempore Pat Haddad, and Rep. Jay Livingstone saying that "their collective and unparalleled commitment to reproductive freedom will benefit many generations to come."

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The groups also thanked House Speaker Robert DeLeo, Senate President Karen Spilka, and Judiciary Committee Chairs Claire Cronin and Jamie Eldridge—all Democrats—for "their unwavering leadership in the face of a global pandemic, inflammatory attacks from anti-abortion activists, and a governor who stood in the way of meaningful reform."

Coalition members and rights activists took to Twitter Tuesday to applaud the override as a "monumental win for reproductive freedom" in Massachusetts:

Elected officials in the state also welcomed the victory. Chandler, who has been fighting for the expanded abortion rights the past two years, declared that "beginning today, pregnant people who once faced near-insurmountable barriers accessing abortion care can now seize the right to control their own bodies."

Democratic Attorney General Maura Healey tweeted, "This has been a decades-long, hard-fought journey."

In 2018, Massachusetts lawmakers passed and Baker signed legislation that repealed an unenforced 173-year-old abortion ban amid concerns about what Brett Kavanaugh's confirmation to the U.S. Supreme Court would mean for reproductive rights on a national level. As MassLive reported Tuesday:

Lawmakers vowed to codify and expand abortion measures after Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died and Amy Coney Barrett, a conservative appointee of President Donald Trump, was confirmed.

Barrett's confirmation solidified a conservative majority on the Supreme Court. Reproductive health advocates say her appointment increased concerns that Roe v. Wade could be overturned should a challenge to the landmark abortion case reach the high court.

Rebecca Hart Holder, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Massachusetts, noted that thanks to the override, "if heaven forbid Roe were to fall, there would be absolutely no interruption in care in Massachusetts because we have protected access to abortion in Massachusetts law."

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