In one legislative session after another, Pennsylvania Republicans have tried to limit access to abortion throughout the commonwealth — and the fall term that opens this week is poised to be no different.
The new session in Harrisburg starts against the backdrop of recent events in Texas where earlier this month, the U.S. Supreme Court allowed a six-week abortion ban to go into effect. The court refused an emergency request to block Texas Senate Bill 8, which essentially places a bounty on anyone who “aids or abets” the performance of an abortion.
By allowing the law to take effect, the Supreme Court signaled that it’s open season for Roe v. Wade — the landmark 1973 ruling that upheld the right to an abortion. On Monday, the court also announced that, in December, it will hear oral arguments on a Mississippi abortion ban.
Attacks on abortion rights are taking multiple forms in the Pennsylvania legislature — a fetal remains bill, a so-called “heartbeat” ban, and a ban on abortion in cases of a Down syndrome diagnosis, just to name a few.
The most recent abortion-related measure in Harrisburg — the “Pain Control for the Unborn” bill — is State Rep. Timothy R. Bonner’s proposal to require abortion providers to administer pain medication to a fetus in terminations done over 12 weeks.
Physicians’ groups have repeatedly stated that the issue of fetal pain in abortion is not a scientific or practical concern in the first 24 weeks of pregnancy, when abortion is legal in Pennsylvania. The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology summed up the issue succinctly: “A human fetus does not have the capacity to experience pain until after viability.”
Nevertheless, in 2017 Pennsylvania Republicans passed a 20-week abortion ban, purporting to defend “pain capable” fetuses. Gov. Tom Wolf, rightly, vetoed the bill and has vowed to veto any other anti-abortion legislation that Republicans send to his desk.
The pen of Gov. Wolf, whose term expires in January 2023, is the only thing that currently ensures that Pennsylvania won’t have a Texas-style abortion ban in place.
Pennsylvania needs a governor who would stand up for abortion rights — and that is also true of its senators.
This week, the U.S. House of Representatives is expected to vote on the Women’s Health Protection Act, enshrining a nationwide right to an abortion. Ahead of the House vote, 48 out of 50 Democratic U.S. senators expressed their support. Among the two holdouts was Pennsylvania’s Sen. Bob Casey.
Despite his personal stance on the issue, Casey’s been more likely to vote in ways that protect abortion than restrict it. His vote on the Women’s Health Protection Act should continue that pattern.
The time to develop infrastructure to defend abortion in Pennsylvania after Wolf’s tenure ends is now. Hopefully, Republicans will remember that they are allowed to vote in favor of ways that protect those who’ve already been born in the commonwealth — and not just use specious claims about fetal pain to control the bodies of pregnant people.