Pennsylvania Republicans Pave the Way for Banning Abortion With ‘Shameful, Undemocratic’ Tactics

Abortion advocates met with Gov. Tom Wolf (D-PA) outside the Pennsylvania capitol building in May to discuss the future of abortion access after the leaked draft of Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health signaled the end of Roe. Photo shows Women with pink signs: "Together We Fight For All" Planned Parenthood logo.

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Abortion advocates met with Gov. Tom Wolf (D-Pa.) outside the Pennsylvania Capitol building in May to discuss the future of abortion access after the leaked draft of Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health signaled the end of Roe. (Tom Wolf / Flickr)

On Friday, July 8, Republicans in the Pennsylvania General Assembly passed a bill authorizing a statewide vote to eliminate the right to abortion from the Pennsylvania Constitution. In a surprise move, Senate Republicans added the measure to an unrelated bill late Thursday night. Planned Parenthood Pennsylvania Advocates (PPPA) condemned the action as unscrupulous.

“Late last night, anti-abortion legislators in the Pennsylvania Senate amended a bill that would change our Constitution to say that you have no right to an abortion,” said PPPA executive director Signe Espinoza. “They are using the constitutional amendment process to bypass the Governor and they are legislating in the middle of the night to avoid your scrutiny as they erode your rights. It’s shameful, undemocratic and wrong.”

The measure, which would require a second round of legislative approval, is the first step to enable a ballot question on a constitutional amendment that would declare that the Pennsylvania Constitution does not protect the right to abortion nor any right to public funding for abortion.

In less than 24 hours, and most of that time under cover of darkness, anti-abortion legislators have advanced a bill that will take rights out of our Constitution.

Signe Espinoza, Planned Parenthood Pennsylvania Advocates

“Every step of this process has been taken to avoid public scrutiny of their unpopular policies,” said Espinoza, who described the Republicans’ action as, “a significant step toward forcing their radical anti-abortion agenda into the Pennsylvania Constitution.”

During a committee meeting at 11 p.m. on Thursday night, Senate Republicans added the anti-abortion amendment into Senate Bill 106, a bill with constitutional amendments to reform the process of electing the lieutenant governor and add a voter identification requirement. Republicans then rejected every amendment offered by Senate Democrats and raced the bill through votes in the Senate and House. Espinoza described the process.

“Early the next day, they began full floor debate—not even 12 hours after introducing this amendment language. Immediately following that vote, the House took it up for consideration and passed it less than one day after we saw this amended bill for the very first time. In less than 24 hours, and most of that time under cover of darkness, anti-abortion legislators have advanced a bill that will take rights out of our Constitution.”

The amendment has the same language that voters approved in Tennessee in 2014, amending that state’s constitution in such a way that state court challenges to abortion laws are virtually impossible. The Tennessee legislature then passed a six-week abortion ban in 2020 that went into effect on June 28, 2022, after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade.

Espinoza expressed frustration at the tactics used by Republicans and said she fears they will continue to use underhanded maneuvers to ban abortion in Pennsylvania as soon as possible.

“The bill can pass again in January, be on the 2023 primary ballot, and lead to abortion bans by this time next summer,” said Espinoza. “This is the most expedited timeline possible, and we know that these extremists have been planning for this since they stacked the United States Supreme Court with the sole goal of overturning Roe v. Wade. This process was not transparent, and that was intentional by a far-right majority dead set on advancing a fringe ideology.”

The measure passed Friday was first introduced in January of this year, in part in response to a lawsuit, Allegheny Reproductive Health Center v. Pennsylvania Department of Human Services, brought by several abortion providers asking the state’s Supreme Court to strike down the Pennsylvania ban on Medicaid funding for abortion as a violation of the Equal Rights Amendment and equal protection provisions of the Pennsylvania Constitution.

Advocates argue the state’s refusal to cover abortion in its Medicaid program is sex discrimination because the policy excludes “funding for an extremely common, sex-linked medical need of women while funding all reproductive medical needs for men.” The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has yet to rule on the case.

“Our bodies are under attack. Our autonomy is under attack. Not only do we need to be on guard for legislation passing the General Assembly, we must be on guard for parliamentary tricks to bypass the legislative process,” said Espinoza. “We saw what they did today and we know that they will try it again. But they need to know that we won’t forget what they did, and it will be at the forefront of many minds in November. We will not go back.”

Sign and share Ms.’s relaunched “We Have Had Abortions” petition—whether you yourself have had an abortion, or simply stand in solidarity with those who have—to let the Supreme Court, Congress and the White House know: We will not give up the right to safe, legal, accessible abortion.

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Carrie N. Baker, J.D., Ph.D., is the Sylvia Dlugasch Bauman professor in the Program for the Study of Women and Gender at Smith College. She is a contributing editor at Ms. magazine. You can contact Dr. Baker at [email protected] or follow her on Twitter @CarrieNBaker.