HARRISBURG — At least 18 bills directly relating to abortion are pending in either the Pennsylvania House or Senate, including two proposed constitutional amendments that could strengthen potential bans.
Most remain dormant in committee since being introduced in the 2021-22 legislative session, however, the outcome of the Mississippi abortion case before the U.S. Supreme Court could spur movement in the Republican-controlled General Assembly.
“Regardless if this leaked, preliminary U.S. Supreme Court ruling signals final Armageddon for Roe v. Wade,” state Rep. Kathy Rapp, R-Wayne/Crawford/Forest, said Wednesday, “as majority chair of the House Health Committee and the majority co-chair of the bipartisan Pro-Life Caucus, I can confirm that Pennsylvania’s Legislature is already well-positioned to successfully advance some of the strongest pro-life legislation in the history of our Commonwealth.”
Rapp referred to the draft majority opinion written by Justice Samuel Alito and leaked to the online media outlet Politico. The draft opinion, written in February, would order federal abortion protections guaranteed in 1973 by Roe v. Wade to be struck down. That would allow individual states to regulate abortion through state law.
Republicans Rep. Donna Oberlander and Sen. Judy Ward proposed the constitutional amendments. Each would express that there is no right to an abortion or abortion funding within Pennsylvania’s constitution. Language in the bills is nearly identical.
Amal Bass, director of Policy & Advocacy with the Women’s Law Project, Philadelphia, said if such an amendment is ultimately successful, it would “foreclose” reproductive rights from the Pennsylvania Constitution. The amendment doesn’t expressly ban abortion but does pave the way for a ban, she said.
“It does it in a particularly concerning way by actually declaring that the policy of Pennsylvania is to protect the life of unborn children from conception to birth,” Bass said.
Contraception, miscarriage management and infertility treatment all “could be in peril if we’re drawing the line at conception,” Bass said.
No vetoes on amendments
Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf has vetoed several bills restricting abortion during his two terms, the limit for the office of governor. His tenure ends with the inauguration of a new governor in mid-January.
While Attorney General Josh Shapiro, the lone Democrat in the race, would maintain Wolf’s position on abortion, all nine Republicans vying for the position support further restrictions.
And, when it comes to the proposed amendments, the governor’s position wouldn’t matter. Those bills can’t be vetoed. Rather, the bills must twice pass through the House and Senate in consecutive years before being placed on ballots for voters to decide.
When, exactly, the proposed amendments and other abortion-related bills will come to vote isn’t certain.
Jason Gottesman and Erica Clayton Wright, respective spokespersons for the House and Senate Republican Caucuses, each noted that the Supreme Court remains unsettled.
Gottesman said there’d be no deviation in the House from the normal legislative process. Wright said the Senate’s primary focus is on addressing the state’s economy.
Republicans Rep. Stephanie Borowicz and Sen. Doug Mastriano, a leading gubernatorial candidate, each proposed bans on abortion when evidence of a “fetal heartbeat” is detected, which can generally occur at about six weeks.
A prenatal diagnosis of Down syndrome would no longer be considered cause for abortion under separate proposals offered by Republicans Rep. Kate Klunk and Sen. Scott Martin. Klunk’s bill passed through the House last June. It since moved out of Health and Human Services Senate and is pending on the Senate floor. Martin’s is in committee.
Another proposal by Ward would restrict public funding for abortion providers.
A bill offered by Republican Rep. Timothy Bonner would require pain medication to be administered for the fetus when abortions are performed beyond 12 weeks.
Republican Rep. Dawn Keefer introduced a bill that would classify cases where a woman’s use of alcohol or controlled substances is detected in her newborn as child abuse.
Three from Democrats
There are proposals from Democrats intended to strengthen reproductive health and rights.
Democrat Kristine Howard introduced a bill to codify into state law protections for abortion access. Both Rep. Leanne Krueger and Sen. Judith Schwank offered bills that would require health insurers to provide coverage for women’s contraceptives as a way to reduce the number of abortions performed. All three remain in committees.