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DeLeo: House Will Tackle Abortion Access During Budget Debate

Despite Speaker Robert DeLeo warning House lawmakers off trying to use the annual budget to advance major policy changes, the top Democrat will push for a vote this week on an amendment that would codify abortion rights into state law and make abortions legal after 24 weeks if a doctor has diagnosed a fatal fetal abnormality.

The amendment to the annual budget bill was filed by Rep. Claire Cronin, a Easton Democrat and the co-chair of the Joint Committee on the Judiciary, which faced its own deadline of Thursday to make a recommendation on a bill known as the "ROE Act."

DeLeo, in a statement Monday, said it was "urgent" that the House consider the matter.

"Following last week's joint statement with Senate President Spilka, in which we expressed concern over the threat to women's reproductive rights on the national level, it is urgent that the House take up an immediate measure to remove barriers to women's reproductive health options and protect the concepts enshrined in Roe v. Wade," DeLeo said in a statement.

Cronin filed a version of the ROE Act as amendment 759. It would strengthen abortion access laws in Massachusetts but making abortion explicitly legal in state law, and allowing for abortions after 24 weeks in more than just cases where the life of the mother is in jeopardy.

The amendment also spells out a legal process for young women under the age of 16 who can't or do not want to get the consent of a parent or guardian to petition a judge for an abortion. The legislation have been under consideration since the session started in 2019, but picked up momentum following the confirmation of conservative Justice Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court last month.

DeLeo and Senate President Karen Spilka promised after Barrett's confirmation that the Legislature would address abortion rights before the end of the session in early January, but last week DeLeo said the fiscal year 2021 budget, which is already four months late, is "not an appropriate place for major policy reform."

The House and Senate are attempting to get an annual state budget bill to Gov. Charlie Baker's desk by the end of the month.

Cronin's amendment closely resembles the ROE Act, which was filed in the House by Speaker Pro Tempore Patricia Haddad and Rep. Jay Livingstone.

Access to abortion in Massachusetts is currently protected by both the Roe v. Wade decision in the Supreme Court, as well as a separate state-based decision by the Supreme Judicial Court.

Cronin's office did not respond to emails Monday morning.

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