Massachusetts Bill Would Allow Abortion until Birth

A woman receives an ultrasound during a prenatal exam. (Joshua Lott/Reuters)

A new bill in the Massachusetts state legislature would permit women to obtain an abortion after 24 weeks’ gestation if a doctor determines that “the abortion is necessary to protect the patient’s life or physical or mental health.” Currently, abortion is legal in Massachusetts for any reason before fetal viability, which is generally somewhere between 22 and 24 weeks of pregnancy.

The bill, called the “Roe Act,” defines “mental health” in the exact same expansive language that the Supreme Court used in the Roe v. Wade companion case Doe v. Bolton: “all factors—physical, emotional, psychological, familial, and the person’s age—relevant to the well-being of the patient.” This lenient definition essentially allows for abortion on demand up until the moment of birth.

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The Roe Act also would permit abortion after viability if a doctor deems the unborn child  “incompatible with sustained life outside the uterus.” Though the right to abortion is already protected by the Massachusetts state constitution, this legislation would enshrine that right in law as well.

The Guttmacher Institute, a pro-choice research group, frequently ranks Massachusetts as only a “middle-ground” state for abortion rights, chiefly because the state still requires minors to obtain parental consent before seeking an abortion. The new legislation would change that, allowing any woman — or, as the bill puts it, “pregnant person” — to obtain an abortion as long as she has given informed consent. Twenty-one states currently require parental consent for minors, eleven require only parental notification, and five require both parental notification and consent.

According to NPR, Republican governor Charlie Baker has said that, while he supports legal abortion, he does not support the expansions to state law contained in this new bill.

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