Senate Judiciary Committee advances abortion bill

Senate Judiciary Committee advances abortion bill

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Gov. Tom Wolf continues to reiterate his opposition to a controversial abortion bill and promised, once again, to veto it.

“If this legislation reaches my desk, I will veto it,” he said. “This is a bad bill for Pennsylvania and we cannot afford to allow it to go forward.”

It’s the same warning he issued three weeks ago when the House passed the legislation — imploring the Senate to “reject” House Bill 1948 and everything it does “to set women back.”

However, Republicans on the committee approved the bill on a vote of 9-5 on July 11, sending it to the full Senate for consideration. A timeline for a vote has yet to be scheduled, Republican Caucus spokeswoman Jenn Kocher said Monday.

Democrats on the committee, however, didn’t let the bill pass without first engaging in an impassioned debate that covered many of the same concerns voiced by House Democrats last month.

The bill in question would amend the state’s Abortion Control Act to prohibit abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy — the current standard is 24 weeks. An exception would be made for when the procedure is necessary to prevent the mother’s death or “substantial and irreversible” loss of major bodily functions. The legislation would also ban the dilation and evacuation procedure with the same aforementioned exceptions. The legislation refers to the procedure as “dismemberment abortion,” or the termination of a pregnancy by the removal of the limbs of the unborn child.

Sen. Daylin Leach, D-Delaware, led off the discussion with questions surrounding the bill’s constitutionality and undefined terms, including “major bodily harm” and “dismemberment.”

“I object to this bill on a number of grounds,” Leach said. “First of all, the Supreme Court, just a few weeks ago, reinvigorated the discussion around the undue burden test on women. This bill creates substantial new burdens on women. Perhaps the most severe is that it requires women to use a more, in most cases, more dangerous, less safe method of having an abortion after 20 weeks. The D&E and is by far the safest method for the woman involved.”

Leach began circulating a co-sponsorship memo last month to repeal Act 122 of 2011 — the law requiring Pennsylvania abortion clinics meet the standards of ambulatory surgical facilities. Leach’s proposal was inspired by a 5-3 U.S. Supreme Court opinion handed down June 27 deeming a similar Texas law unconstitutional because it imposes an “undue burden” on women seeking abortions.

The Texas legislature approved the measure in 2013. Critics say it’s a costly mandate which shuttered half of the state’s 40 abortion clinics, forcing women to drive hundreds of miles for care.

“I don’t know why we are passing unconstitutional laws on issues we know nothing about, on something most of us sitting at this table will never in our lives have to deal with, but we are forcing this on other people and making their lives more at risk, making them less safe, than they are today,” Leach said, likening a woman’s right to abortion to the second amendment.

“With gun ownership, my God, we can’t do anything,” he said. “Can you imagine if we were passing these sorts of laws with regards to guns? We can only buy guns for so many weeks and we can only buy certain kinds of guns at certain times. I mean you can imagine the self-righteous constitutional outcry that we would hear about this sacred constitutional right that we are infringing upon? Yet, we can pass laws about women’s constitutional right, totally equal to the second amendment, we can pass those laws over and over again in the most intrusive way and that’s no problem. No problem at all.”

Committee Majority Chairman Stewart Greenleaf, R-Montgomery, argued the bill does not prohibit all abortions and therefore does not infringe a woman’s constitutional right.

“My position is there are 15 other states that have legislation like this that have not been challenged,” he said. “The other issue is, we are not interfering with women’s right to an abortion. That’s a constitutional right that they have and we cannot do that.”

Sen. Lisa Boscola, D-Northampton, chastised the committee for voting the bill, which she characterized as an “obvious political election-year gimmick,” despite the more pressing concern of passing a revenue package capable of funding the $31.63 billion spending plan ahead of a midnight deadline Monday.

“This is, in my opinion, an assault on women’s health, unnecessarily,” she said. “And as the only woman on the Judiciary Committee … I would say that, I’m playing this woman’s card, but to me, it’s more about the family. People that are making this decision — usually a woman doesn’t do it alone — there’s a spouse involved, a lot of times. They talk to their doctors. In that 20 to 24 weeks, there is some testing that’s done, that’s not done prior, and decisions are made. Painstaking decisions by women and men that might have to end the pregnancy, for the sake of the woman and her health and the family’s health. Who is anybody in this room to tell a woman what to do in that critical time? The doctor and the family get to make that decision.”

“It’s hurtful. They cry. There’s pain. And now you’re going to add to it.”