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BRAINTREE -- The bishops of Massachusetts have expressed their disappointment in the recent passage of new laws expanding access to abortion in the Commonwealth.
In a statement released Dec. 31, Cardinal Seán P. O'Malley, Springfield Bishop William D. Byrne, Worcester Bishop Robert J. McManus, and Fall River Bishop Edgar M. da Cunha said they were "deeply disappointed by the failure of the Massachusetts legislature to uphold Gov. Baker's veto" of a budget amendment that significantly deregulates abortion in Massachusetts.
"The Catholic Church recognizes that it has a primary moral responsibility to speak for the most vulnerable among us -- the unborn. That responsibility is at the center of the Catholic moral vision. Because of its centrality, the Church must oppose the directly intended taking of human life through abortion at any stage of pregnancy. It is a serious moral wrong and directly undercuts our unyielding goal to promote the common good throughout a civil society," the bishops said.
The amendment's passage came after many months of campaigns for and against a bill containing similar proposals, known as the ROE Act. Advocates for the bill presented it as an attempt to codify Roe v. Wade, the landmark Supreme Court case that legalized abortion in the United States, into state law, to guard against the possible overturning of Roe v. Wade by an increasingly conservative Supreme Court.
Speaking to The Pilot on Jan. 4, James Driscoll, executive director of the Massachusetts Catholic Conference, took issue with that characterization.
"In reality, the Massachusetts law would remain in place, even if Roe v. Wade was overturned by the Supreme Court, so it's a false narrative that the proponents painted when it comes to this issue," Driscoll said.
The bill remained in committee for many months without moving forward. Then, in November, the House and Senate passed budget amendments containing elements of the ROE Act.
"To add this to a budget amendment is disappointing. It has nothing to do with the fiscal affairs of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts," Driscoll said.
While accepting most provisions of the amendment, Gov. Charlie Baker objected to two of its proposals: lowering the age of consent for an abortion from 18 to 16, and changing the language regarding cases in which abortion would be allowed after 24 weeks. The previous law said that abortions could be performed at that stage if there was "a substantial risk" to the mother's physical or mental health, whereas the new legislation would permit the procedure "to preserve" her health, according to "the best medical judgment of the physician."
Gov. Baker did not oppose provisions of the amendment that allow for abortion after 24 weeks in cases of "fatal fetal anomalies," as well as allowing abortions prior to 24 weeks to be performed not only by physicians but also by physician assistants, nurse practitioners, and nurse midwives. The amendment also proposed to eliminate the requirement for physicians to save the life of a baby born as a result of a failed abortion. Life-saving medical equipment would need to be in the room to "enable" the physician to save the life of the mother or child, but the new language is nuanced enough that the physician would not technically be required to use that equipment.
The governor sent the amendment back to the legislature with his suggested changes, but they sent it back to him with its original language.
On Dec. 24, he vetoed the amendment in its entirety. The legislature voted on Dec. 29 to override the governor's veto, thereby making the proposed policies law.
In their Dec. 31 statement, the Massachusetts bishops reaffirmed their commitment to defend life from conception to natural death.
"Our commitment to human dignity also includes strongly opposing capital punishment and physician assisted suicide, but it does not end there. We will also continue to defend life by protecting immigrants and refugees seeking our assistance, by serving the poor in our communities and by a constant appeal to others in our society to see the fragile ties which hold us together as a civil community," they said.