With the Massachusetts House of Representatives poised to debate an amendment this week addressing access to abortions, Republican leadership is taking issue with folding the matter into the state budget debate.
After saying last week that major policy initiatives had no place in the House's fiscal 2021 budget plan, House Speaker Robert DeLeo committed Monday to bring to the floor a budget amendment that resembles the ROE Act, a priority bill for many advocates and lawmakers.
The legislation (H 3320 / S 1209) has been pending before the Judiciary Committee since the start of session in 2019 and more than half of the House membership signed on as co-sponsors. But Democrats opted not to bring the bills to the floor before the elections, and now are poised to take the issue on as a budget amendment.
Minority Leader Brad Jones characterized it as a hypocritical move by the chamber's Democratic leadership.
Jones told State House News Service on Tuesday that he found the move to take up the substance of the bill as an amendment "disappointing" and took issue with what he said are conflicting messages from DeLeo.
"On the one hand, he's saying this is a major policy. On the other hand, he's saying we shouldn't do it," the North Reading representative said. "So it gets to — like I said, do as I say, not as I do. Better to be king because I can do what I want and the rest of you need to follow."
The amendment, filed by Judiciary Co-Chair Claire Cronin (D-Easton), would allow abortions after 24 weeks if a doctor diagnoses a patient with a fatal fetal abnormality, and lays out a process by which women under the age of 16 can petition a judge for the procedure without parental consent.
Expanding and codifying abortion in Massachusetts gained renewed momentum among advocates and elected officials after the confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett, which solidified a conservative majority on the nation's highest court.
Speaker Pro Tempore Patricia Haddad, a Democrat and lead sponsor of the original House bill and a member of DeLeo's leadership team, said the vehicle by which a policy proposal is taken up "doesn't matter," just the subject.
"It's the subject matter that I really feel has to be taken up, especially when we know that things are going to change dramatically in the Supreme Court," the Somerset representative said Tuesday. "Again, if people think that vehicle is okay, then they'll use it. If like the Minority Leader, they don't think it's the right vehicle, then they won't."
In his statement Monday, as legislative activity ramped up in lame duck sessions, DeLeo said it was "urgent" to take up measures on reproductive rights and cement concepts found in the court decision Roe v. Wade.
"I'm grateful to Chair Cronin for filing a thoughtful amendment that would accomplish those goals, in an expeditious manner, and look forward to bringing it before the House this week," DeLeo said in the statement.
When asked if he would support the amendment when it eventually comes to the floor, Jones said he would wait to see how debate unfolds in the House.
"I'm happier with some of the changes, but I'm not happy with all the changes," he said. "I don't think my caucus is and I think from a process standpoint, I think given the marker the speaker put down, we shouldn't be doing this in the budget."
More than 300 pastors on Tuesday sent a letter to Gov. Charlie Baker asking him to veto the measure if it reaches his desk, calling it "one of the most radical pieces of abortion legislation in the country."
State Republican Party Chairman Jim Lyons also criticized the effort. "The Democrats' priorities are nothing short of ghoulish," Lyons said in a statement Monday. "For them to decide that the height of an emergency health pandemic is a good time to do something like this is absolutely disturbing."
After last week's elections, NARAL Pro-Choice Massachusetts said every incumbent lawmaker who has supported the ROE Act won their race, "and in many instances, fended off anti-abortion opponents."
"Over and over, Bay State voters have made their support for the ROE Act clear by electing leaders who are committed to removing politically-motivated barriers to abortion care," said Rebecca Hart Holder, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Massachusetts.
House budget deliberations are scheduled to resume on Thursday at 11 a.m.
Michael P. Norton contributed reporting.
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