BOSTON (State House News Service) — A spending bill dedicating money to reproductive health care access could soon land on Gov. Charlie Baker's desk, and in the wake of a Supreme Court decision eliminating the constitutional right to abortion, Baker on Monday indicated he would support the funding.
State lawmakers are in the midst of closed-door negotiations on a final version of a $50 billion budget for the fiscal year that starts Friday. Both the House and the Senate versions of the spending bill contain money for reproductive health care access, infrastructure and security.
The Senate bill, passed after the leak of a draft Supreme Court ruling showing the court was poised to overturn the landmark abortion rights case Roe v. Wade, also features a suite of protections for providers of reproductive and gender-affirming health care and their patients.
Last Friday, when the Supreme Court did overturn Roe with its ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization, Baker swiftly signed an executive order instituting similar protections.
Baker's order bars Massachusetts from cooperating with extradition attempts from other states in connection with reproductive health services that are legal here, protects Massachusetts reproductive care providers from professional discipline arising from out-of-state charges, and prohibits agencies under the state's executive department from helping another state's investigation of a person or entity for receiving or delivering reproductive health services here.
Baker said Monday he was able to issue the order so quickly because "we obviously spent the time between the time of that draft and the issuance of the ultimate decision coming up with a plan that would keep providers here in Massachusetts safe and would provide relief to people from other states who came here seeking those services safe as well."
"I do believe that having listened to and heard from a lot of companies over the course of the past several days about what this decision means with respect to their workforces and their benefit plans, that there may in fact be a big opportunity for Massachusetts to encourage some employers to either come here or expand their footprint here because we are a state that takes this issue seriously and will be there for their employees when they need those kinds of reproductive services and supports," Baker told reporters after a State House event touting his tax relief plan.
Abortion care remains legal in Massachusetts under state law. The Massachusetts Association of Health Plans said Friday its members will continue to provide coverage for abortion services in small group and individual plans offered in the state and as part of the standard benefit-package offered to self-insured businesses.
Providers and advocates have said demand for reproductive health care services could rise as patients from states newly subject to abortion bans or restrictions seek care here.
"In the coming weeks and months, we expect an influx of new patients who will no longer be able to receive care in their own communities," Mass General Brigham President and CEO Dr. Anne Klibanski wrote in a message to staff Friday. "We will continue to provide the high-quality level of care, for which we are known, to all patients who walk through our doors, no matter their state or country of origin. We will do this as we always do, respecting the very personal, and sometimes very difficult, decisions that patients make in close consultation with their clinicians."
Baker said his administration has had conversations with the health care community and with the State Police about security at reproductive health clinics.
"I'm obviously not going to speak to what people said about it because that would be inappropriate, but this is something we're all paying a lot of attention to and having lots of conversations," he said Monday.
House lawmakers, in the budget they passed in April, steered $500,000 toward "improving reproductive health care access, infrastructure and security," including grants to three abortion funds -- the Jane Fund of Central Massachusetts, the Abortion Rights Fund of Western Massachusetts and the Eastern Massachusetts Abortion Fund. The following month, the Senate bumped that figure up to $2 million and created a dedicated line item for it.
Senate Ways and Means Chairman Michael Rodrigues in May compared the funding to an existing state grant program that supports security enhancements at faith-based and nonprofit organizations that face risks of terrorist attacks and hate crimes, including synagogues and mosques.
Asked Monday if he'd fielded any requests for additional reproductive health funding, Baker said, "I do believe there will be additional funding coming in one of the financial documents that will land here sometime between now and the end of the session. We'll obviously support that."
Speaking outside the State House Friday afternoon, Attorney General Maura Healey said Massachusetts has "a Legislature here that is going to act, and act quickly, to make sure that we in Massachusetts are protecting our providers and protecting our patients."
"And I can promise you, as attorney general, we're going to make sure that no one is investigated, no one is harassed, no agencies or law enforcement are turning over personal information," Healey, who is running for governor, said. "No one is going to be vilified or under attack. We are going to take care of our providers here. We are going to take care of our patients here."
Written by Katie Lannan/SHNS