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Women's health advocates blast Pa. abortion bill
Planned Parenthood Federation of America President Cecile Richards is adamantly against legislation that would limit access to abortions in Pennsylvania, which she says would have "devastating effects" on women's health care.
Richards joined politicians and other advocates Monday at the state Capitol to condemn House Bill 1948, which they say would be among the most restrictive policies in the country.
"Politicians are the last people who should be making decisions about women's health care," she said.
House Bill 1948 — introduced by Rep. Kathy Rapp, R-Warren County, on Friday and chiefly co-sponsored by Reps. Bryan Barbin, D-Cambria County, and Bryan Cutler, R-Lancaster County — would ban abortions after 20 weeks, or five months, of gestational growth. The current limit is 24 weeks, or six months.
Real stories: Multiple women from Pennsylvania came to address the media as well, sharing stories about their decisions to choose abortions.
Kelsey Williams, of Wilkinsburg, said she was devastated to learn in February during a 20-week ultrasound that the fetus she was carrying suffered severe muscle deformities. The proposed changes, she said, “would have stripped me of my choice during such a vulnerable time.”
She called it the toughest decision of her life, “one I am grateful we were able to make for ourselves without outside interference.”
The bill also would ban the dilation and evacuation procedure, termed “dismemberment abortions” in the legislation’s text. However, it would not apply if needed to save the mother’s life or prevent her from suffering impairment.
Karen Agatone, of Doylestown, said she was thrilled to learn last summer that she was pregnant after trying for six months as a newlywed.
They had named their daughter Evelyn even before a 20-week ultrasound identified severe dwarfism that gave the girl no chance of survival. Agatone decided to undergo dilation and evacuation.
“As painful as it was, we had to accept that she was not meant for this earth,” Agatone said. “I want people to know that abortion is not about the unwanted, the unvalued and the unknown babies of the world. Her life mattered to us and it will always matter to us.”
Proposal: The bill would would remove a requirement currently in place that a woman has to provide a statement signed by her spouse before getting an abortion. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Planned Parenthood v. (former Pennsylvania Gov. Bob) Casey that a father doesn't have a right to be notified before an abortion is performed.
Jeff Sheridan, spokesman for Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf, said in a statement that moving the time for when an abortion can be performed to 20 weeks has also been ruled unconstitutional.
"The U.S. Supreme Court has held that a state does not have an interest in regulating the unborn prior to 24 weeks, so a state cannot regulate abortions prior to 24 weeks," he said.
However, 12 states ban abortions after 20 weeks, according to the Guttmacher Institute.
In 2014, the last year data was available, 328 abortions, or 1 percent, were performed at 21 weeks gestation or later. Of the 32,126 abortions performed in Pennsylvania that year, 1,550, or nearly 5 percent, were dilation and evacuation abortions, according to the state Department of Health.
Medical opposition: Valerie Arkoosh, a doctor from Montgomery County who has worked in labor and delivery floors in hospitals, said the stories the women shared Monday were heartbreaking but not unusual.
Arkoosh said blocking abortions after 20 weeks could cause mothers to be rushed into decisions when they're faced with a diagnosis that could be harmful to the baby's future well-being.
"You can't get a good ultrasound of organ development until around 18 to 20 weeks along," she said. "They can do a very detailed scan of the anatomy and how the baby is forming at the 20-week ultrasound. These women got those severe diagnoses and had time to make an informed decision. We can disagree about abortion, but a 20-week ban is the worst decision you can make."
Leslie K. Brown, interim president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Keystone, said the legislation doesn't fit with the medical process women go through when getting counseled about their options.
"It is truly ironic that the state Legislature would choose to fast-track this complicated legislation," Brown said in a statement released Monday, "after sitting motionless for almost a year on the state budget and inactive about the Agenda for Women's Health, which has a bill that would protect pregnant workers from being fired simply because of their pregnancy and has another bill that would accommodate nursing mothers by giving her a place to pump or express milk while at work."
Political opposition:Rep. Dan Frankel, D-Allegheny County, said his GOP counterparts have voted multiple times to not hear stories like Kelsey's and have fast-tracked the bill.
"It's very troubling that they would do this," Frankel said. "House Bill 1948 was introduced 10 days ago. There's been no transparency, no discussion."
Frankel said the Speaker of the House, Mike Turzai, R-Allegheny County, has also blocked Democrats' attempts to bring in doctors and medical workers to discuss dilation and evacuation abortions.
Gov. Wolf spoke briefly at the press conference Monday and said he is against the legislation.
"This legislation would be a huge step back for Pennsylvania," he said. "This affects real lives in Pennsylvania. If this legislation reaches my desk, I will veto it."
Voting: Frankel told reporters early Monday afternoon the bill would be voted on that day. However, it is in limbo as Republican backers say they aren’t sure if it will get a planned final vote in the state House of Representatives.
Majority Leader Dave Reed said there were “a whole bunch of things on the calendar” on Monday, and he wasn’t sure if the abortion restrictions would get voted on.
Democrats say it was taken off a committee listing, meaning it couldn’t get to the floor Monday.
Proponents: One of the bill's cosponsors, Rep. Seth Grove, R-Dover Township, previously said dilation and evacuation abortions and moving the limit to 20 weeks were important to him, since some people argue fetuses can feel pain that young.
"I just get a sickness in my stomach," said Grove, the father of two boys.
According to the nonpartisan factcheck.org, while some studies have shown a reaction to a pain stimulus in a fetus at 20 weeks gestation, there is no conclusive evidence showing that a fetus at that stage has a nervous system that has developed enough to feel pain.
"We reviewed the literature and spoke with several experts, and we conclude that a firm starting point for pain in the developing fetus is essentially impossible to pin down, and that definitive claims regarding pain perception at 20 weeks are unfounded," the website said.
— Reach Katherine Ranzenberger at firstname.lastname@example.org.
— The Associated Press contributed to this report.