BOSTON – Senate Democrats want to divert state funds to expand abortion access with the US Supreme Court poised to overturn the landmark Roe v. Wade decision.
A proposed line item added to the budget, included in the Senate’s version of the $ 49.7 billion spending plan unveiled on Tuesday, calls for spending $ 2 million for “improving reproductive health care access, infrastructure and security” at abortion clinics.
The money would be distributed in state grants to the Jane Fund of Central Massachusetts, the Abortion Rights Fund of Western Massachusetts and the Eastern Massachusetts Abortion Fund, which provides transportation and funds to women to have the procedure.
A House version of the budget, approved two weeks ago, calls for spending $ 500,000 to expand abortion access and security.
If the proposal survives the budget process, it would be the first time budget funds were used to expand abortion access in the state and could draw legal challenges from anti-abortion groups that argue taxpayers should not be subsidizing the procedure.
A leaked draft ruling by the Supreme Court shows the conservative majority is poised to overturn Roe V. Wade, the 1973 decision that legalized abortion.
Supporters of the move argue that the state is going to become a haven for women from states moving to restrict abortion access ahead of a final decision by the high court, expected in June. They say clinics will need financial support to accommodate the increased demand for services.
Senate Ways and Means Chairman Michael Rodrigues told reporters on Tuesday that the expenditure is about improving security and access at abortion clinics.
“This is ensuring that whoever accesses the services at these facilities can feel safe and the people who work there can feel safe,” Rodrigues said at a briefing.
Republicans are likely to object to the proposed budget earmark when the Senate debate on the budget gets underway next week, but the GOP’s three-member minority in the chamber gives them little to say over the spending package.
It’s not clear whether Gov. Charlie Baker, a moderate Republican who supports abortion rights, will veto the proposed line item if it reaches his desk.
Baker, whose administration has taken steps to expand access to reproductive centers, has said he is also concerned about Roe v. Wade being overturned.
“I think it would be an enormous setback for women across the country and especially women in states where they could literally lose any access to a number of reproductive health services, as well as to abortion services,” Baker told reporters recently.
To be sure, abortion access in Massachusetts would not be outlawed if the high court overturns the Roe v. Wade decision.
A 2020 state law codified the right to get an abortion, lowered the age of consent from a parent or judge from 18 to 16, and authorized the procedure after 24 weeks when deemed necessary by a physician.
But so far, lawmakers have been reluctant to propose direct funding in the state budget for expanding access to the procedure.
Massachusetts is one of 17 states where public money is used to fund abortions and other reproductive services for low-income women, but the funds are not provided directly through the budget. Abortion providers are reimbursed through Medicaid payments, and it’s not clear how much the state spends on them.
A 1981 Supreme Judicial Court ruling holds 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.
Women’s health lawyers have praised lawmakers for including the budget earmarks and say the state funding is needed to help plug gaps in insurance coverage that make the procedure unaffordable for many low-income women.
“Abortion funds work around the clock to fill systemic gaps in health care coverage and ensure that Bay Staters who want access to abortion care can get it, regardless of cost,” said Rebecca Hart Holder, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice of Massachusetts.
But anti-abortion groups say they plan to fight efforts by the Legislature to carve out a budget line item for abortion access.
Pat Stewart, executive director of Massachusetts Citizens for Life, said the expenditure sets a “dangerous precedent” and that her group plans to explore a legal challenge against it.
Christian M. Wade covers the Massachusetts Statehouse for North of Boston Media Group’s newspapers and websites. Email him at email@example.com.