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Bill restricting abortions passes Senate committee

Staff and wire report

HARRISBURG — A Pennsylvania Senate committee advanced legislation Monday to impose new restrictions on elective abortions.

Senate Bill 3, which passed along party lines, resumes a push that stalled last year amid a veto threat from Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf and opposition by the state’s largest doctors’ group.

The Judiciary Committee’s vote was its second in eight months. It passed the bill on a party-line committee vote last July, three weeks after it passed the House, 132-65. The bill never came to a full Senate vote and died at the end of the session.

Local Sens. Scott Wagner, R-Spring Garden Township, Mike Folmer, R-Lebanon and York counties, and Richard Alloway, R-York, Adams, Cumberland and Franklin counties, all serve as co-sponsors of the bill.

The bill would ban elective abortions after 20 weeks, compared to 24 weeks under current law. Fifteen states already do that, according to the Guttmacher Institute. The bill also would ban a procedure it calls a “dismemberment abortion” before 20 weeks and make it a felony to violate it. Supporters said the ban does not apply to a procedure commonly called a dilation-and-evacuation procedure, the most common method of second-trimester abortion.

The term “dismemberment abortion” is not used by medical professionals or groups such as the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, and opponents suggested the bill would have the effect of banning the dilation-and-evacuation procedure after 20 weeks. Seven states ban the dilation-and-evacuation procedure, according to the Guttmacher Institute.

The bill would leave in place exceptions for when a physician believes the procedure would save the mother’s life or prevent the impairment of a major bodily function of a pregnant woman. It does not offer exceptions for pregnancies caused by rape and incest.

It also would add a requirement that a medical consultation with a physician be held before an abortion.

State Sen. Scott Wagner

Alloway, who also serves on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said before the vote that it's not unreasonable to move the restrictions from 24 to 20 weeks.

Opponents have called the bill an unabashed attack on a woman’s right to abortion. In a letter last year, the Pennsylvania Medical Society’s then-president wrote: “We are highly concerned that the bill sets a dangerous precedent by legislating specific treatment protocols.”

Democrats on the committee argued that public hearings should be held regarding the controversial bill. Rep. John Sabatina, D-Philadelphia, motioned to table the vote until hearings could be set, but the motion was denied.

Folmer

Alloway said he understands people feel emotional about legislation regarding abortions, but he doesn't see the purpose of having a public hearing on the issue.

"You're either pro-life or you're not," he said. "A public hearing isn't going to change your mind."

Jason High, a spokesman for Wagner's office, said Wagner co-sponsored the bill because he is anti-abortion, and he's just waiting to see what happens.

State Sen. Richard Alloway, R-Hanover.

Local Reps. Kate Klunk, R-Hanover, Stan Saylor, R-Windsor Township, Kristin Phillips-Hill, R-York Township, and Seth Grove, R-Dover Township, and Sen. Mike Regan, R-Dillsburg, all served as co-sponsors on last session's similar House bill.

The Senate committee’s vote Monday sent the bill to the full Senate. The bill is ultimately expected to reach Wolf’s desk, but it’s not clear that supporters can override his expected veto.

— Dispatch staff writer David Weissman and The Associated Press contributed to this report.