EDITORIAL: Pa.'s anti-abortion efforts out of touch
Increasingly, the United States can be divided not only into red states and blue states, but into states that respect individual rights and states that seek to undermine them.
Ask any woman of child-bearing age.
Roe vs. Wade supposedly legalized abortion back in 1973. But you’d never know it by visiting a state like Mississippi. Despite a population of more than 1.5 million women, the state has a total of one women’s health clinic that offers abortion services.
Nor is it alone. States including Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas have all but legislated abortion services out of existence through a series of laws that place onerous requirements on facilities, unnecessary burdens on women and career-threatening legal restrictions on doctors.
Pennsylvania is not immune to these types of ideologically motivated intrusions on women’s health care.
Just this month, the state House sent Gov. Tom Wolf a bill that would make abortions illegal after the 20th week of pregnancy. The current limit is 24 weeks. The governor, to the relief of the state’s women and medical communities, vetoed the bill Monday afternoon.
The measure’s proponents argue that, given medical advances, fetuses can live outside the womb as early as 20 weeks. Sometimes, but it’s far from commonplace. It’s also far from germane.
Only a tiny fraction of abortions is performed after 20 weeks. (Of course, many states have piled on unnecessary pre-procedure requirements, such as mandatory counseling and repeat medical visits, intended to extend unwanted pregnancies. Add these to an earlier prohibition on abortion and you get to the real goal: closing the window entirely on a woman’s right to choose.)
The Pennsylvania bill, characterized by Planned Parenthood as one of the most restrictive in the nation, contains no exceptions for rape, incest or fetal abnormalities, although there is an exception if a mother’s life is at risk. (Abortion opponents don’t want to end a pregnant woman’s life, just control it.)
The bill’s backers — who, one must assume, are medical experts, seeing as they held not a single public hearing to gather input from physicians — went to the usual rhetorical extremes to defend the measure.
“As people try to frame this debate in terms of women’s rights,” argued Rep. Dawn Keefer, R-Franklin Township, “the question that begs to be asked is, what about the rights of those pre-born women in the womb being exterminated?”
When it comes to exaggerated — let alone non-legal — definitions, “pre-born women” is up there with “pre-dead corpses.”
But Keefer’s effort to reframe the debate is understandable. In a year that began with women marching by the millions in support of human rights and is ending with the empowering #metoo movement giving voice to those victimized and silenced by men in power, the overwhelmingly male Pennsylvania Legislature’s bill is embarrassingly patriarchal.
Women do not need to be told how to conduct their private medical affairs. Pennsylvania legislators are both patronizing and presumptuous to think they have a right to even join a conversation among a pregnant woman, her partner and her physician, let alone dictate it.
Wolf’s veto — and the unlikelihood that state lawmakers will be able to override it — is welcome relief. In a year when so many women have fought so hard for expansion, or, at least, recognition of their rights, efforts to chip away at them are not only out of step, they’re out of touch.