Harrisburg: House votes to restrict abortions; Wolf promises veto

2017-12-13 | The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

Dec. 13--HARRISBURG -- The state House passed a proposal Tuesday night to shorten the period during which a woman may have a legal abortion, sending the measure to Gov. Tom Wolf, who has said he will veto it.

The proposal would make abortions illegal after 20 weeks instead of the current 24. It would not exempt victims of rape or incest, but would exempt women whose health the pregnancy threatens.

Supporters of the bill said medical advances have made it more likely that a baby born as early as 21 weeks into a pregnancy can in rare cases survive. Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 Supreme Court decision on abortion, ties the procedure's legality to a fetus' viability outside the womb.

"Study after study is finding that babies born at 22 weeks can survive, and that is changing the abortion debate," Rep. Kristin Phillips-Hill, R-York County, said on the House floor.

Opponents of the bill said fetal abnormalities can be discovered after 20 weeks, and that decisions should be left to women and their doctors, who could be criminally charged for performing abortions later than the law allows.

"This bill isn't about good medicine; it's about legislative overreach," said Rep. Steve McCarter, D-Montgomery County.

A memo for the bill, which passed the Senate on a 32-18 vote in February, said 15 other states have begun to reduce the period during which a woman may have an abortion. The House passed the bill on a 121-70 vote.

In Pennsylvania, 31,818 abortions were performed in 2015, according to a Department of Human Services report. Of those, 380 were performed between 21 and 23 weeks, according to the report.

The bill also bans procedures known as dilation and evacuation abortions, sometimes referred to as dismemberment abortions. According to abortion rights nonprofit the Guttmacher Institute, the procedure accounts for the majority of second-trimester abortions.

Phillips-Hill said the bill would require that the fetus be terminated before the procedure occurs, not that the procedure would be completely banned.

Rep. Dan Frankel, D-Squirrel Hill, said proposals seeking to limit abortions have become more common in the General Assembly over the last two decades.

"I'm very fearful that this bill is not the end of the attempts that the legislature will make," Frankel said.

Wolf called the proposal an extreme restriction in vowing Monday to veto it.

"Once again, politicians in Harrisburg are trying to force their way into the doctor's office so that they can have a say in women's health care decisions," Wolf said in a statement. "Make no mistake about it -- bills like SB 3 are an attack on women's personal freedoms, personal choice, and personal liberties."

Wolf is up for re-election next year; four Republicans have declared they are running for governor.

Wes Venteicher is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-380-5676, wventeicher@tribweb.com or via Twitter @wesventeicher.