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Abortion bills ride fast track through House

No shale tax/fee. No tuiition vouchers. No liquor privatization. But two abortion bills are rolling on the fast track through the Pennsylvania legislature.

No shale tax or fee. No tuition vouchers. No liquor privatization.

But two abortion bills are suddenly rolling on the fast track through the Pennsylvania legislature.

The state House gave final approval today (146-45) to legislation that would prohibit private insurance companies from covering abortion care - even for women paying for their own coverage and those with serious medical conditions - under the federal health care law.

The House also gave preliminary approval to a bill to impose a host of new regulations on abortion clinics that clinic operators say would be so costly and burdensome it would put them out of business.

House Bill 1977 prohibits insurance companies from covering abortion care in the insurance exchange created by the federal healthcare law, with exceptions for cases of rape, incest, and imminent death.

The bill still must pass the Senate and be signed by the governor.

Republicans say the bill would prevent the use of taxpayer dollars for "elective abortions."

Opponents say the measure would endanger women's health and make women "second class citizens" by prohibiting them from purchasing legal health coverage.

Rep. Babette Josephs (D., Phila.) called the bill "a monstrosity."

"Your constituents trust you to vote for them, not make decisions about their lives," she said during the two-hour debate. "That is unacceptable."

As attorney general Gov. Corbett joined with 25 other states to sue the federal government over the Affordable Care Act.

Last month Corbett said Pennsylvania would establish a health insurance exchange under the new law. Health exchanges will allow consumers - particularly individuals and small business owners - to shop around for insurance.

The House also gave preliminary approval to the so-called "Gosnell" bill, controversial legislation that would impose tough restrictions - on such things as physical plant size and staffing - on the fewer than two dozen free-standing clinics that perform abortions.

Sponsor Rep. Matt Baker (R., Tioga) said his amended legislation (SB 732) seeks to protect the "safety of women and children."

Opponents say existing laws would have protected women patients of Kermit Gosnell - the Philadelphia abortion doctor now charged with the murder of seven babies and an adult patient - had they been enforced.

"This is a solution to a problem in the city of Philadelphia with a rogue operator," said Rep. Dan Frankel (D., Allegheny). "Everything about this amendment is about trying to shut down clinics. The way to protect women is to enforce existing law."

The bill is supported by the anti-abortion groups such as the Pennsylvania Family Institute, which issued a scorecard based on votes by lawmakers on variations of the Gosnell legislation, labeling those that supported the bill "pro family" and those who voted against "anti family."

Opponents include American Academy of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, as well as a number of Pennsylvania hospitals, among them the University of Pennsylvania Medical Center, the ACLU and Planned Parenthood.

"These medical associations have said the language is bad for women in Pennsylvania. We should rely on advice of medical professionals, to ensure that what occured in Philadelphia never happens again," said Rep. Josh Shapiro (D., Montgomery).

Legislative supporters disagreed.

"Numerous atrocities transpired in the Gosnell clinic," said Baker. "We need to address this in a decisive way."

Republican leaders expect a final vote on the clinic bill on Wednesday.

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