After the United States Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June, decisions on abortion rights have been turned over to the states, many of which have outright voted to ban abortions, or are pushing anti-abortion bills through their legislatures. Pennsylvania’s Republican-led state legislature has made several attempts to ban or further limit reproductive rights, , though Democrats have been hard at work to keep those bills at bay for now. Across the Commonwealth, some cities have also been passing abortion protections in their place.
What has been done to deny reproductive rights?
Republicans in the legislature have been doubling down on abortion bans with measures like SB 378 and HB 904 – both of which aimed to adopt copies of Texas-style restrictions on health care, though neither bill has yet been brought to a vote. The bills, sponsored by Republican Senator Stephanie Borowicz and Republican gubernatorial nominee Sen. Doug Mastriano, were considered so-called “heartbeat bills,” and have typically been used to ban abortions at 6 weeks before many people even know they are pregnant.
“At six weeks of pregnancy, an ultrasound can detect a little flutter in the area that will become the future heart of the baby,” said Dr. Saima Aftab, medical director of the Fetal Care Center at Nicklaus Children’s Hospital in Miami. This flutter happens because the group of cells that will become the future ‘pacemaker’ of the heart gain the capacity to fire electrical signals. This means that the embryo is nowhere near as developed as Republican lawmakers would have you believe. Embryos are not classified as fetal until at least 8-11 weeks into pregnancy.
Another set of bills, HB 2252 and SB 956, sponsored by Republican state legislators Donna Oberlander and Judy Ward, aimed to amend the state constitution to guarantee that residents hold “no right to an abortion or funding for an abortion.” Republican Senator Judy Ward also a measure that would have prevented state entities such as the Department of Human Services from establishing a contract with or making a grant to any entity that performs abortions. While this bill would not have immediately changed funding for women’s health services, Ward has voiced support for even more restrictive legislation, should Republicans find themselves with more anti-abortion legislators after the midterm elections.
The Republican-controlled legislature also recently introduced a new amendment to the state consitution to prohibit the right to abortion. If passed, voters could soon see that amendment their ballots..
“The very people who are promoting this constitutional amendment think that many common forms of birth control and emergency contraception are abortifacients. They think those things are abortions,” said Sue Frietsche, senior attorney with the Women’s Law Project in Pittsburgh. Frietsche has warned that the proposed amendment could open the door for state lawmakers to outlaw all abortions at all times, and has warned that could also include bans on certain contraceptives. The proposal passed in both Republican-controlled chambers this year and must now pass again next year to go on the ballot.
What could be done to deny reproductive rights?
Pennsylvania’s current feticide law enacted in 1997 is similar to the one used in Iowa to charge a woman with a felony for falling down the stairs. Farah Diaz-Tello, Senior Counsel and Legal Director for If/When/How says that it can be used to charge pregnant people for other behaviors too, including “using a controlled substance, refusing cesarean [sic] surgery (or) being involved in a car accident not wearing a seatbelt.” Advocates have been quick to cite these cases as possible to become common in a post-Roe America, especially in states with total abortion bans.
Pennsylvania currently allows abortions up to 24 weeks but Republican legislators in the state have voiced support for a complete abortion ban and, with Roe overturned, the state legislature could legally enact a complete ban. Republican Speaker of the House, Bryan Cutler, told the Lancaster Patriot that, “If we get the opportunity to pass such legislation [outlawing all abortions], I do think it would pass and I would personally support it. What we need is a different governor.” The Republican candidate for governor, State Senator Doug Mastirano, has stated repeatedly that he opposes abortions even in cases of rape, incest, or where the life of the parent is at risk. If state lawmakers were to pass a total abortion ban, it would be Pennsylvania’s 1997 feticide law that could be used to prosecute parents who experience miscarriages or stillbirths.
What is being done to ensure reproductive rights?
Pennsylvania’s Democratic legislators have continued to hinder or outright block Republican attempts at restricting reproductive health care.On July 28th, as part of an ongoing commitment to protect Pennsylvanians’ right to abortion care, Governor Tom Wolf filed a lawsuit against the Republican-led General Assembly for their unconstitutional attempt to ban abortion through the covert rewriting of SB 106, which was originally meant to remove the right to elect a lieutenant governor.
Some towns are also passing local protection measures: the city of Pittsburgh unanimously passed three related abortion protections for their residents, including protections for abortion providers and patients, as well as a measure to hold crisis pregnancy centers accountable for spreading medical misinformation about abortions and contraception. The city of Philadelphia has long provided equal protections and has now become a safe-haven for abortion service seekers from outside the state, vowing to keep reproductive healthcare accessible to all who step into their borders. The township of Radnor has also been bolstering its abortion protections, recently passing the GRACE act, which limits local police’s ability to intervene in abortion cases and makes any investigations into them the lowest priority. Further bills are expected to follow.
At the state level, Senators Katie Muth (D-Montgomery), Amanda Cappelletti (D-Montgomery), Lindsey Williams (D-Allegheny), Maria Collett (D-Bucks), Judy Schwank (D-Berks), Christine Tartaglione (D-Philadelphia), and Carolyn Comitta (D-Chester) are all currently working together on a new bill to codify Roe v. Wade into state law.
With Republicans positioning themselves to outright ban abortion services and contraception access should the midterms swing in their favor, all eyes remain fixed on the upcoming November elections.