Bill limiting abortions introduced in Pa. House

Jason Addy
  • Rep. Kathy Rapp, R-Warren County, has introduced an abortion-restriction bill similar to one passed by the Senate.
  • The Senate passed SB 3, limiting abortions after 20 weeks, by a 32-18 vote two weeks ago.
  • Opponents have denounced the lack of input from the medical community and other stakeholders.

Less than two weeks after the Pennsylvania Senate approved a bill to limit abortions, prompting outcry from medical professionals across the state, a similar bill has been introduced in the state House.

On Feb. 8, the state Senate passed Senate Bill 3, which aims to shorten the period for legal abortions from 24 weeks of gestation to 20 weeks, except in medical emergencies. SB 3 now sits in the House, though state representatives will have their own piece of abortion legislation to consider.

Rep. Kathy Rapp, R-Warren, has introduced House Bill 77, the same legislation she sponsored last session, which would make it a third-degree felony for physicians to perform abortions on fetuses past 20 weeks of gestation.

Governor Tom Wolf joins Cecile Richards, President of Planned Parenthood Federation of America and legislators to discuss the repercussions of the Republican anti-choice bill, Monday April 11, 2016. 
John A. Pavoncello photo

Both versions of the bill would outlaw abortions after the halfway mark of pregnancy, unless the abortion procedure is necessary to prevent the death of the mother or “irreversible damage to a major bodily function.”

Under both bills, a second physician must concur with the first that death or irreversible damage is likely to occur if an abortion is not performed.

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Unlike the Senate version, Rapp’s bill also requires the abortion to be performed in a hospital, while stipulating that the physician performs the abortion “in a manner which provides the best opportunity for the unborn child to survive.” HB 77 also requires a second physician to be on hand to take “all reasonable steps necessary to preserve the child’s life and health.”

The state House passed House Bill 1948 by a 132-65 vote in June during the last legislative session.

Under HB 1948, a married woman seeking an abortion would have been required to give her physician a signed statement that she had notified her spouse of the procedure.

The spousal-notice language in HB 1948 has been removed from HB 77.

Veto promise: In a statement, Gov. Tom Wolf said he would veto the Senate’s abortion bill if it made it to his desk, as it is “not the place of government” to make health care decisions for women.

“I am not threatening a veto out of partisanship or due to some political back-and-forth,” Wolf said. “I am promising this veto to demonstrate that Pennsylvania will not play games with women’s health care in our commonwealth.”

J.J. Abbott, Wolf’s spokesman, said the governor expects an abortion-restriction bill to reach his desk as early as March.

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Wolf and other opponents have said the bills would create some of the most extreme restrictions on abortion throughout the country and have voiced concerns over the lack of consultation with medical professionals when drafting the bill.

Both bills also would  curtail the use of a procedure known as dilation and evacuation, which is often used in second-trimester abortions, according to medical experts. The bills refer to the procedure as “dismemberment abortions,” though that term is not medically accepted or defined.

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Sari Stevens, executive director of Planned Parenthood Pennsylvania Advocates, said the potential abortion restrictions are “incredibly alarming,” and she criticized Sen. Michele Brooks, R-Mercer, sponsor of SB 3, for speaking of unnamed doctors supporting the bill without inviting medical professionals to testify in the Senate.

“There’s no (other) field of medicine where elected officials would instruct physicians on how to interact with patients,” Stevens said.

Stevens said the push to restrict abortions at the state level has become a national trend since 2010, with lawmakers taking a “copy-and-paste approach” with sample legislation drafted by conservative think-tanks such as the American Legislative Exchange Council.

Veto override: If the House passes SB 3 and Wolf follows through on his promise to veto, Stevens said her organization is confident Republican senators would be unable to override the governor’s veto.

The Senate passed SB 3 by a 32-18 vote, mostly on party lines. Overriding the governor’s veto in the Senate would require 34 votes, while the House holds a veto-proof majority.

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If the state Legislature does override Wolf’s veto, Stevens said she would expect Attorney General Josh Shapiro to challenge the law’s constitutionality in court.

Stevens said she questions the motives of the bills’ sponsors, who have “moved it with such speed,” and said the legislation does not represent the wishes of the public.

Two-thirds of the Legislature is anti-abortion, but the public supports the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1973 ruling in the Roe v. Wade case — affirming a woman’s right to have an abortion — at the same level, Stevens said.

“(The Legislature) is supposed to be a deliberative body,” Stevens said. “This was not a deliberative process.”

York County lawmakers did not return multiple requests for comment on the bills.

— The Associated Press contributed to this report.