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Pa. abortion bill to receive speedy vote - but no public input

HARRISBURG - A key Senate committee is expected to vote Monday on legislation that would place stricter limits on abortion without having held a hearing or seeking any input from the state's medical community.

The Judiciary Committee, chaired by Republican Sen. Stewart J. Greenleaf of Montgomery County, will vote on whether to ban abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy except in medical emergencies, instead of 24 weeks under current law.

The measure also calls for sharply curtailing medical use of 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.

No hearing will be held before the vote, the committee's executive director, Patrick Cawley, said Friday.

The bill, which Republicans pushed in the last two-year legislative session, has received significant pushback from medical organizations in the state, as well as women's groups and members of families who have had to make difficult decisions for medical reasons about continuing a pregnancy.

Opponents have called it an unabashed attack on a woman's right to an abortion. In a letter last year, the Pennsylvania Medical Society's then-president wrote: "We are highly concerned that the bill sets a dangerous precedent by legislating specific treatment protocols."

Greenleaf did not return calls seeking comment. Neither did the bill's sponsor, Republican Sen. Michele Brooks of Mercer County.

Said Jennifer Kocher, spokeswoman for Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman (R., Centre): "There is an interest in our caucus to see this bill progress." She would not say whether Corman supported a hearing on the issue.

In an interview Friday, Sen. Daylin Leach, the ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, said legislative supporters could not even answer basic questions about the bill last year.

"This is not about trying to find the best public policy - it's about pushing an extreme right-wing religious agenda to subjugate women," he said.

Gov. Wolf, a Democrat, has said he would veto the bill if it reaches his desk.

"I will veto this bill and stand up for a woman's right to choose," Wolf said in a statement Friday. "This bill puts the government between a woman and her doctor."

The bill passed the Republican-controlled House last year, receiving 132 votes in its favor - close to the threshold of withstanding a veto. It cleared Greenleaf's committee late last year, but the legislature's two-year session ended before it came up for a floor vote.

There was no hearing on the legislation last session, either.