June 22, 2016 — The Pennsylvania House on Tuesday voted 132-65 to approve legislation (HB 1948) that would impose several abortion restrictions, the AP/Sacramento Bee reports (Scolforo, AP/Sacramento Bee, 6/21).
The bill now proceeds to the state Senate. If passed, Gov. Tom Wolf (D) has said he would veto the legislation, calling it "a step back for women" (Esack, Morning Call, 6/21).
The bill, sponsored by state Rep. Kathy Rapp (R), would ban abortion care after 20 weeks of pregnancy. Pennsylvania currently bans abortion after 24 weeks of pregnancy.
In addition, the bill would ban a medically proven method of abortion (Women's Health Policy Report, 4/4). Further, the legislation would require in-person counseling with a medical professional before a woman could obtain most abortion care (Morning Call, 6/21).
Under the bill, people who violate the restrictions could face third-degree felony charges (Women's Health Policy Report, 4/4). The bill includes limited exceptions in instances when the woman's life is in danger or a major bodily function could be impaired. There are no exceptions for cases of rape or incest.
According to Elizabeth Nash, senior state issues associate at the Guttmacher Institute, six states have enacted laws aimed at banning the medically proven method of abortion. Of those bans, three have been blocked by courts and two have yet to take effect. The sixth, in West Virginia, is in effect. Nash said, "This bill is a microcosm of the type of restrictions we've been seeing over the past year, in particular, at the state level."
During debate over the legislation, state Rep. Madeleine Dean (D) said the measure could interfere with the patient-provider relationship. According to Dean, the bill could lead to the "return to those dark days of stepping into the shoes of the women and stepping into the shoes of a practitioner and telling other people what to do" (AP/Sacramento Bee, 6/21).
Citing the bill's lack of exceptions for instances of rape or fatal fetal anomalies, state Rep. Leanne Krueger-Braneky (D) said, "This bill would be devastating for patients."
Separately, Sari Stevens, a spokesperson and lobbyist for Planned Parenthood's state chapter, said, "This vote is a callous disregard of women's health and dangerous election-year gimmick."
The Pennsylvania Medical Society also condemned the bill in a letter to state lawmakers, noting that the measure could interfere with the patient-provider relationship and undermine providers' ability to provide the best quality care. "[W]e are highly concerned that the bill sets a dangerous precedent by legislating specific treatment protocols," the group wrote (Morning Call, 6/21).