BOSTON — House Democrats have reignited a battle in Beacon Hill over women’s reproductive rights with a provision in the state budget to expand abortion access.
Included in the $49.7 billion spending plan for the fiscal year that begins July 1, which was approved by the House of Representatives Wednesday night, is an amendment calling on the state to spend $500,000 to expand the access to abortion.
The money, which would be dedicated to “improving access to reproductive health care, infrastructure and safety,” would be distributed as state grants to the Jane Fund of Central Massachusetts, Abortion Rights Fund of Western Massachusetts and the Eastern Massachusetts Abortion Fund, as amended.
The measure, sponsored by state Rep. Thomas Stanley, D-Waltham and several other Democrats, was included in a “consolidated” package of amendments that were hammered out by House Democratic leaders in closed-door meetings closed.
Proponents of additional funding for reproductive health centers argue that Massachusetts will become a haven for women from states that are moving to restrict access to the procedure. These concerns precede an early ruling by the United States Supreme Court on Roe V. Wade, the 1973 ruling that legalized abortion.
“As anti-choice states across the country seek to eliminate access to abortion care, Massachusetts remains a beacon for reproductive freedom,” said Rebecca Hart Holder, executive director of Reproductive Equity Now. “This funding is an essential first step in ensuring access to abortion care for every Bay Stater who wants it.”
But conservative groups, such as the Massachusetts Family Institute, argue that state taxpayers should not fund abortions. They fear the increased spending will encourage women across the country to come to Massachusetts for surgery.
“This is outrageous – we are already one of the highest abortion states in the country. This will only make the problem worse,” said Andrew Beckwith, the IMF’s executive director. “How many more dead babies do the Beacon Hill politicians want? They are creating a culture of death.”
Pat Stewart, executive director of Massachusetts Citizens for Life, said the spending sets a “dangerous precedent” and her group plans to explore a legal challenge against it.
“These funds would be better spent helping mothers care for their babies, instead of ending their lives,” she said. “Massachusetts taxpayers are against using their tax dollars to fund abortion. Lawmakers will be held accountable for this gross misuse of taxpayer dollars.”
If the proposal survives the budget process, supporters say it would be the first time budget funds have been used to expand abortion access in the state.
It’s unclear whether Gov. Charlie Baker, a Republican who supports abortion rights, would sign off on the budget allotment if it made it to his desk.
The thorny issue of taxpayer funding for abortions has erupted frequently in Beacon Hill over the years, most recently in 2019 when Democratic lawmakers sought to provide public funding to women’s reproductive centers that were set to lose funding due to the changes to the federal Title X subsidy program.
Massachusetts is one of 17 states where public money is used to fund abortions and other reproductive services for low-income women. Abortion providers are reimbursed by Medicaid payments, but it’s unclear how much the state spends on them.
A 1981 Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruling states that because the state provides medical coverage through its Medicaid programs to eligible women for births and other reproductive services, it must also provide coverage for abortions.
The state also receives federal funding for women’s reproductive services and expects to receive more than $8.5 million through the Title X program in the current fiscal year, according to the U.S. Department of Health. Health and Social Services.
Massachusetts has some of the broadest abortion protections in the country, making the state a destination for women in New Hampshire and other states that are tightening their laws.
In 2020, Democrats who control the state legislature pushed through a new law codifying a woman’s right to have an abortion. This decision was in response to changes in the composition of the Supreme Court of the United States which gave it a conservative majority.
The so-called ROE Act prohibits the state from interfering with a person’s “personal decision” to have an abortion, allows the procedure after 24 weeks when deemed necessary by a doctor, and lowers the age of abortion. consent of parent or judge 18-16.
Christian M. Wade covers the Massachusetts Statehouse for North of Boston Media Group newspapers and websites. Email him at [email protected]