HARRISBURG — A measure to outlaw abortions after 20 weeks is moving in the state House, setting up a showdown with the governor, who’s vowing to veto it if it reaches his desk.
The state House health committee approved the abortion bill by a 16-10 vote Monday night. The measure would move the state’s legal limit for abortions from 24 weeks to 20 weeks.
Senate Bill 3 would also bar the use of what lawmakers described as “dismemberment abortion” except to save the life of the mother.
“Once again, Harrisburg Republicans are moving the most extreme anti-choice legislation in the country that criminalizes abortion and leaves no exceptions for victims of rape or incest,” Gov. Wolf said. “I have met with women and medical professionals and understand how devastating and dangerous this bill would be for patients. That’s why I will veto this attack on women. Put simply, women’s health care decisions should be left up to women and their doctors, not politicians in Harrisburg.”
A rally by pro-life groups to call for a quick House vote on the measure is scheduled for this morning.
After Monday’s vote, Lindsey Maudlin, a Planned Parenthood spokeswoman, said that 99 percent of abortions in 2014 were before 20 weeks.
Abortions that take place after 20 weeks “are very complicated, personal decisions that should be between a woman and her doctor,” Maudlin said.
State Rep. Pam DeLissio, D-Montgomery County, said the legislation is unfair to women because there are medical abnormalities that are discovered around 18-19 weeks of pregnancy. Limiting abortions to 20 weeks or less gives women in those situations very little time to decide what to do, she said.
State Rep. Matt Baker, R-Bradford County said there are seven states that already ban abortions after 20 weeks, and another 15 states have laws limiting abortions in cases when the fetuses can experience pain.
This abortion bill passed the state Senate by a 32-18 vote in February. The state House passed an identical version of the bill in its last legislative session by a 132-65 vote, he said. In addition, the U.S. House of Representatives has passed similar legislation three times. The measure has yet to pass in the U.S. Senate.
Republican state Rep. Kathy Rapp, whose 65th District includes eastern Crawford County, authored the version of the abortion bill that passed last session.
She said the move to 20 weeks is necessary because of medical advances. These have shown that not only because of evidence that babies can experience pain at 20 weeks, and advances in helping premature babies survive when they are born earlier in pregnancy, Rapp said.
She pointed to cases where doctors have performed surgery on babies in the womb and provide anesthesia to the babies during the surgery.
Opponents criticized the move to rush the legislation out of committee. State Rep. Michael Schlossberg, D-Lehigh County, asked that the committee vote be delayed. He said state Rep. Flo Fabrizio, D-Erie County, the Democratic chair of the committee, was unavailable on Monday because he’s getting cancer treatment and Democrats didn’t learn of the plan to vote on the abortion bill until Friday afternoon.
The committee voted down Schlossberg’s delay request.
“There’s a reason lawmakers who support this bill don’t want to vote in the light of day — because this bill does not protect women; it puts women at risk,” said Meghan Eirkson, director of policy, Planned Parenthood Pennsylvania Advocates. “The machinations these lawmakers employed to fast-track this bill and silence patients and medical professionals show just how far they will go to pursue an extreme political agenda to undermine women’s reproductive rights.”
Bills far less restrictive than these measures already have been deemed unconstitutional, she said. Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to review a decision permanently blocking Arizona’s ban on abortion at 20 weeks, and courts in Idaho and Georgia recently blocked similar bans.
Just last month, a federal judge in Texas overturned the state’s attempt to ban the same common abortion procedure targeted here. Rapp said the controversy strikes at the heart of the dispute over abortion rights.
John Finnerty reports from the CNHI Harrisburg Bureau for The Meadville Tribune and other Pennsylvania newspapers owned by Community Newspaper Holdings Inc. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @cnhipa.