MA Republican Governor Charles Baker signs bill protecting abortion rights

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A sweeping abortion bill designed to protect access to the procedure in Massachusetts at a time when many other states are restricting or outlawing abortions was signed into law Friday by Republican Gov. Charlie Baker.

The new law attempts in part to build a firewall around abortion services in the state after a U.S. Supreme Court ruling overturned Roe v. Wade last month.

The law protects abortion providers and people seeking abortions from actions taken by other states, including blocking the governor from extraditing anyone charged in another state unless the acts for which extradition is sought would be punishable by Massachusetts law.

The bill also states that access to reproductive and gender-affirming health care services is a right protected by the Massachusetts Constitution; requires the state’s Medicaid program, known as MassHealth, to cover abortions; allows over-the-counter emergency contraception to be sold in vending machines; and requires public colleges and universities to create medication abortion readiness plans for students.

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The Massachusetts governor has signed a bill that will protect women's rights to abortion in the state.

The Massachusetts governor has signed a bill that will protect women’s rights to abortion in the state.

A unique Texas law banning most abortions after about six weeks is enforceable through lawsuits filed by private citizens against doctors or anyone who helps a woman obtain an abortion.

Many elements in the new law echo steps Baker took in an executive order he issued immediately after the Supreme Court handed down its ruling.

“This new legislation signed today builds on that action by protecting patients and providers from legal interference from more restrictive laws in other states,” Baker said in a written statement adding Massachusetts “remains steadfast in its commitment to protect access to reproductive health care services.”

The new law also addresses the question of permitting an abortion for a pregnancy that has lasted 24 weeks or longer.

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Under the bill, the abortion would be allowed if, in the best medical judgment of a physician, it is necessary to preserve the life of the patient, necessary to preserve the patient’s physical or mental health, warranted because of a lethal fetal anomaly or diagnosis or warranted because of “a grave fetal diagnosis that indicates that the fetus is incompatible with sustained life outside of the uterus without extraordinary medical interventions.”

The vast majority of abortions occur before 20 to 21 weeks of pregnancy. In 2019, almost 93% of abortions occurred at or before 13 weeks’ gestation, while only 1% of abortions occurred at 21 weeks or later, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Other portions of the bill would allow any licensed pharmacist to dispense emergency contraception and require the Public Health Department to identify areas in the state without access to abortion within a 50-mile (80-kilometer) radius and recommend ways to ensure access to abortion in those areas.

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The House approved the bill on a 137-16 vote. The Senate backed the measure 39-1. Both chambers are controlled by Democrats.