When politics is personal: Why Beacon Hill is divided on the abortion bill

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Senate Speaker Karen Spilka’s late sister, Susie, had Down syndrome, and their relationship left an indelible mark on Democrat Ashland. “I spent 26 years as a legal guardian, and through our close relationship, she helped both ground me and inspire me. She taught me how much our lives and our communities are enriched when we include people of all abilities,” Spilka said after being elected President of the Senate in 2018.

Those who support the House version have suggested this is why the Senate is determined to keep “tough” out of the legislation. The Senate passed his bill 40-0.

“I don’t know who is spreading this, but I can assure you it’s wrong and it’s a low blow,” said Sen. Cindy Friedman, a Democrat from Arlington. “The President of the Senate may have said at one point, ‘What is serious?’ … That’s why the Senate didn’t put that in because we just don’t know.

Through a spokesperson, Spilka referred questions about the reproductive rights bill to Friedman, whom she appointed last week to co-lead a task force on the impact of the cancellation. de Roe by the Supreme Court, including on how to handle abortions later in pregnancy.

Meanwhile, the House version – which includes the “severe” language — passed 136-17 with significant Republican support, a strong vote that leaders see as a mandate to pass the most comprehensive reproductive rights package possible.

It’s Ron Mariano’s house now. The Quincy Democrat, before taking the reins as president, built a legislative career on developing health care policy and helped negotiate the state’s landmark Universal Health Care Act of 2006. . For him, abortion is health care.

Then there’s Rep. Aaron Michlewitz, chairman of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee. He has emerged as a champion of reproductive rights because it is an issue that touches us closely: his father, Harold Michlewitz, practiced as an obstetrician-gynecologist for four decades in the Boston area.

“I grew up with my dad dealing with women’s health issues on a daily basis,” said Michlewitz, a Boston Democrat. “He performed medical abortions in the 1980s, when people weren’t necessarily nice to the doctors doing it.”

Michlewitz remembers growing up fearing his father would be attacked for doing his job. He was a teenager in 1994 when John Salvi III walked into two abortion clinics in Brookline and opened fire, killing two receptionists and wounding five others.

Today, as an elected official, Michlewitz wants to do everything he can to protect women’s right to abortion.

“This discussion is something that has been ingrained in my beliefs and my upbringing,” Michlewitz said.

For the most part, the House and Senate agree on a reproductive rights bill that would notably protect providers from out-of-state prosecution for performing abortions here on women in other jurisdictions. where it is not legal, make emergency contraception more accessible and require health insurers to cover abortions and related services without a deductible or co-payment.

Abortion rights protesters marched from the Massachusetts State House to the Government Center in Boston in June. Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff

They differ on the Chamber’s attempt to also update the Roe Act, which was passed in 2020 codify abortion rights in the state. The House wants to add the word ‘severe’ after hearing about Kate Dineen, whom I first reported on in May.

Last July, Dineen was 33 weeks pregnant when a fetal MRI showed her unborn son had suffered a catastrophic stroke. Doctors at Massachusetts General Hospital told her there was a 50% chance the baby would die before birth; if the baby lived, it would mean a life of pain and suffering.

Dineen wanted an abortion, but Mass. General refused to practice one, saying the Roe Act created a gray area by only specifying termination of pregnancy in the event of a “lethal” fetal abnormality. Instead, Dineen had to go to a clinic in Maryland to terminate her pregnancy.

The need for late-term abortions is extremely rare, but Dineen – herself a trade group leader and registered lobbyist in Beacon Hill – has shared her personal story with lawmakers, as she doesn’t want anyone to go through the trauma of leaving. Massachusetts for an abortion. She was extraordinarily efficient.

“I couldn’t believe it when I read it. It was so disappointing. This was exactly the situation we hoped to avoid with the Roe Act,” said Rep. Jay Livingstone, a Boston Democrat who was one of the cosponsors of the Roe legislation. “My children were born in Mass General. It could have been my wife.

Doctors and reproductive rights advocates will tell you that the Down syndrome problem is a red herring. The disease is detected early and doctors would not terminate the pregnancy after 24 weeks because of Down syndrome alone. Individual doctors, in their own letter to lawmakers, also ask that “severe” be added.

Passion is deeply rooted in the House. Less than a week after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, House unveiled and passed his version of a reproductive rights bill.

“This is just a critical moment in history,” said Rep. Kate Hogan, the House’s second-tallest member and Stow Democrat. “Everyone wanted to meet him.”

Now the two sides are meeting in a conference committee to settle the differences, but they are running out of time. They will need to vote on a final bill by Thursday if they want the chance to override any potential vetoes by Gov. Charlie Baker before the end of the session on July 31.

The original Roe Act only became law after the two chambers worked together to override a veto by Baker, who had concerns about expanding access to late-term abortions.

Both Friedman and Michlewitz serve on the conference committee, and like Michlewitz, Friedman brings his own lived experience to the table.

Friedman grew up outside of Philadelphia in the years leading up to Roe v. Wade in 1973 which legalized abortion nationwide. She was 17 when she started helping friends with unwanted pregnancies – once traveling with a friend to New York where she could get an abortion, another time accompanying someone who needed a psychiatric evaluation so that she can be considered mentally unfit to have a child.

“It was the only way to get an abortion in Pennsylvania,” Friedman said.

Everything I know about the House and the Senate. They have shown outstanding leadership in expanding access to abortion in Massachusetts.

If “severe” is the sticking point, surely there must be another word that could satisfy both chambers. How about “serious” or “catastrophic?”

This change matters. It’s the difference between pass a law that seeks to isolate Massachusetts residents from the late Roe and that would make the state a beacon for women across the country.

It’s a big difference, and it’s too important to say.


Shirley Leung is a business columnist. She can be contacted at [email protected]

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