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Pa. House committee sends abortion bill to floor for vote
A bill by a Republican state lawmaker to tighten restrictions on women seeking to end pregnancies in Pennsylvania was moved to the House floor for a full vote on Monday.
House Bill 1948 — introduced by Rep. Kathy Rapp of Warren County, on Friday and chiefly co-sponsored by Reps. Bryan Barbin, D-Cambria County, and Bryan Cutler, R-Lancaster — would ban abortions after 20 weeks, or five months, of gestational growth. The current limit is 24 weeks, of six months.
It would also put restrictions on dilation and evacuation abortions, referred to as "dismemberment abortions" in the bill, when tools are used to remove a fetus, which are often torn apart during the process.
In their sponsorship memo, the three representatives said they were prompted to introduce the bill after hearing stories of babies being born prematurely at 20 weeks.
Five lawmakers from York County — Reps. Seth Grove, R-Dover Township; Stan Saylor, R-Windsor Township; Kate Klunk, R-Hanover; Kristin Phillips-Hill, R-York Township; and Mike Regan, R-Dillsburg — are among the roughly 100 co-sponsors. At least 11 Democrats are among the sponsors of the bill.
The bill was moved out of the House Health Committee by a 16-10 vote that was largely along party lines, with all but two Democrats voting in opposition. One Republican, Frank Farry of Bucks County, also voted against. A motion to table the bill to allow for a public hearing failed.
Phillips-Hill, who sits on the committee and approved sending it to the floor, said she was surprised by how cordial the debate on the bill was, considering abortion is a passionate issue.
Proposal: The bill would criminalize dilation and evacuation abortions if certain exceptions aren't meet.
It would remove a requirement 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, also 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.
Opposition: The bill has received staunch opposition from Planned Parenthood, and Wolf vowed to veto the measure should it reach his desk.
"This legislation is an attack on a woman’s right to make her own health decisions, and it goes so far as to prohibit a woman’s right to have an abortion, even in the case of rape or incest," Sheridan said in a statement.
On its website, Planned Parenthood is urging residents to contact lawmakers to encourage them to vote against the bill.
"This is the most restrictive abortion law in the country," said Selina Winchester, a spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood Keystone. "It infringes on a woman's right to have an abortion."
State Rep. Kevin Schreiber, D-York City, said he'd vote against the bill, and that vote may happen sooner rather than later.
The bill is on a fast track in the House and could be up for a floor vote as soon as Wednesday. Some opponents questioned why it was introduced so close to the state's April 26 primary, possibly making it an election issue that would bode well with GOP voters.
"It never ceases to amaze the alacrity with which bills that have not been vetted and are apparently unconstitutional can make it to the floor when there is clearly a political undertone," Schreiber said. "This is a serious issue with significant consequences. As such it should not be rushed or done without proper vetting, input from health care and the public."
Proponents: But Grove noted that since representatives in the state are elected every two years, every bill could be considered an election issue.
"We're up every two years," he said. "One year it's an election issue, the next it's not an election issue."
Grove, a father of two boys, said dilation and evacuation abortions and moving the limit to 20 weeks were sticking points, since some people argued fetuses can feel pain that young, for him when he put his name on the bill.
"I just get a sickness in my stomach," he said.
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.
Phillips-Hill said the bill would bring the state's law in line with modern medicine, which has improved over the years to give premature babies, even those born after just 20 weeks in a womb, a greater chance at survival.
"Babies who are being born prematurely have a better much chance of staying alive," she said. "We have come so far in terms of medical procedures and drugs" to keep babies alive.
A recent study of premature babies showed 5.1 percent born at 22 weeks gestational age survived, and 2 percent survived without impairment, according to factcheck.org. At 26 weeks, 81 percent survive, and 58.5 percent had no severe impairment.
Klunk said she also believes medical advances should lead to moving the ban on abortions at 24 weeks down to 20 weeks.
Reps. Saylor and Regan couldn't be reached for comment.
— Reach Greg Gross at firstname.lastname@example.org.