Massachusetts legislature sends measure codifying right to abortion, gender-affirming health care to governor’s desk

Story at a glance

  • Massachusetts lawmakers on Tuesday sent legislation to protect access to abortion and gender-affirming health care to the governor’s desk.

  • The compromise legislation would enshrine access to both procedures in state law and protect providers from actions taken by other states where abortion or gender-affirming health care is banned or restricted.

  • Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker recently said he has “always” supported a woman’s right to choose, but last year vetoed legislation that would have codified the right to abortion in state law.

Massachusetts lawmakers on Tuesday approved legislation to protect access to abortion and gender-affirming health care, sending the sweeping measure to the governor’s desk, where it faces an uncertain future.

The bill, a compromise stemming from legislation introduced just days after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, would also shield abortion providers and those seeking an abortion from actions taken by other states where the procedure is illegal.

The same protection would be extended to gender-affirming physicians.

Following the Supreme Court’s June 24 decision, Missouri lawmakers introduced legislation that would enforce the state’s own abortion ban through civil lawsuits if an abortion is administered in another state. The first-of-its-kind measure, if passed, would plant the state in legal territory for which there is little precedent.

In his concurring opinion, Justice Brett Kavanaugh said he believes women who travel to neighboring states to receive an abortion will be protected by the constitutional right to interstate travel, but added that the Supreme Court will no longer involve itself in abortion regulation.

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Under the Massachusetts bill, access to both reproductive and gender-affirming health care services are considered rights protected by the state’s constitution. 

“Access to reproductive health care services and gender-affirming health care services is recognized and declared to be a right secured by the constitution or laws of the commonwealth,” the measure reads. “Interference with this right, whether or not under the color of law, is against the public policy of the commonwealth.”

The legislation also requires Massachusetts’ Medicaid program to cover abortion and allows over-the-counter emergency contraception to be sold in vending machines. The bill also expands access to medication abortion on public college and university campuses.

On Tuesday, Massachusetts House lawmakers passed the compromise legislation in a 137-16 vote, with five Democrats and 11 Republicans opposing the measure. The bill was approved by the Senate in a vote 39-1, with Republican Sen. Ryan Fattman casting the sole dissenting vote.

“In the wake of the shocking Supreme Court decision last month to overturn Roe v Wade, it is imperative for the Commonwealth to ensure that abortion providers are fully protected and patients, whether from Massachusetts or other states, have access to the care they need,” Massachusetts Sen. Jason Lewis (D), tweeted Wednesday.

The measure now heads to Gov. Charlie Baker’s (R) desk for final approval. Baker, who in May said he has “always” supported a woman’s right to choose, vetoed legislation last year that would have codified the right to abortion in state law, citing concerns over late- term abortions.

At an unrelated bill-signing ceremony on Tuesday, Baker said he had not yet read through the new bill, but signaled at least some support for it.

“I have only read about half of it,” Baker said, NPR’s Boston affiliate WGBH reported. “But I’m hoping that we’ll be able to have a ceremony for that one, too.”