HARRISBURG - The House on Tuesday passed a politically charged bill that abortion-rights advocates say would make the state's regulations among the strictest in the nation.
The legislation would ban abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy except in medical emergencies, instead of the 24 weeks under current law. The measure also would sharply curtail a procedure known as dilation and evacuation, which is used in second-trimester abortions and which the bill's supporters refer to as "dismemberment abortions," a term not medically recognized.
The bill passed after more than three hours of heated debate, with many Democrats speaking against it. It now heads to the Senate, where its fate is unclear. Gov. Wolf has said he would veto it.
Proponents of the legislation say it is necessary to prevent fetuses from feeling pain during abortion procedures. Congress is considering a bill to ban abortions at 20 weeks, according to Planned Parenthood, which says the majority of abortions occur before that.
"We must end the inhumane practice of dismemberment abortion, which tears a living human being to pieces," said the bill's sponsor, Rep. Kathy Rapp (R., Warren).
Fourteen states have passed legislation banning abortion after 20 weeks, with an exception in most of those states for life-and-death or serious health emergencies, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a research and policy nonprofit that aims to advance "sexual and reproductive health and rights."
Opponents of the bill said it serves only to limit a woman's legal right to abortion, and has moved through the legislature with lightning speed and without the benefit of a hearing to get input from medical practitioners. The Pennsylvania Medical Society has written several legislators stating its opposition to the bill, and an association representing gynecologists and obstetricians has expressed misgivings.
"We are highly concerned that the bill sets a dangerous precedent by legislating specific treatment protocols," Scott E. Shapiro, the Pennsylvania Medical Society president, wrote in a letter to legislators in April.
Abortion-rights groups have said that if enacted, the measure would represent the biggest shift in decades in the state's abortion laws. Pregnant women undergo a fetal scan at 20 weeks that can reveal severe abnormalities, leaving families with little time to make heart-wrenching decisions about their pregnancies.
During Tuesday's floor debate, Rep. Jordan Harris (D., Phila.) said making that decision is hard enough without "government putting our nose . . . in women's uteruses."
The chances of it becoming law appear slim. Jennifer Kocher, spokeswoman for Republicans who control the Senate, said that the measure would be referred to a committee, but that "it's unclear when the bill will come before the Senate."
Wolf, a Democrat, reiterated his veto threat, calling the bill "a step backwards for women and for Pennsylvania."
"This is a bad bill for Pennsylvania, and we cannot afford to allow it to go forward," he said.