Pa. lawmakers introduce Abortion Protections Package, proposing safeguards for patients, providers

By: - July 18, 2023 12:30 pm

Hundreds of protesters rally in Harrisburg on May 14, 2022, to promote abortion access (Capital-Star photo).

Just over a year after the U.S. Supreme Court gave state legislatures authority over abortion and its legality, two Pennsylvania Democrats are preparing a legislative package ensuring protections for reproductive care.

Sens. Amanda Cappelletti, D-Delaware, and Judith Schwank, D-Berks, plan to introduce a six-part proposal, the Abortion Protections Package, that offers safeguards for providers and for in-state and out-of-state patients looking to access reproductive care, including abortion, in Pennsylvania.

“This legislation would bolster Pennsylvania’s commitment to legal abortion while sending a clear message to neighboring states that we will not be bullied,” Schwank said in a statement.

Abortion remains safe and legal in Pennsylvania, where the procedure is permitted up to 24 weeks of pregnancy, unless sought based on the sex of the fetus, under the Abortion Control Act. Later exceptions can be made for extraordinary circumstances, including when the health of the person giving birth is at risk.

But after the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the law could change; however, any restrictions would face a challenge in the divided General Assembly.

“This package will ensure the safety of patients who are getting the care they deserve and our abortion providers — who we are grateful to have helping patients in a time of need,” Cappelletti said. “I’m hopeful my colleagues will see the vital need for these bills and will move this package forward with urgency once it is introduced.”

The Abortion Protections Package would:

  • Prohibit Pennsylvania courts from cooperating with out-of-state civil and criminal cases involving reproductive health care services and prevent out-of-state officials from arresting individuals in Pennsylvania for abortion-related crimes.
  • Prohibit Pennsylvania courts from enforcing another state’s judgment in a case related to reproductive health care services.
  • Instruct health care licensure boards not to take adverse action against providers who offer reproductive health care services to out-of-state patients.
  • Instruct insurance companies not to take adverse action against providers who offer reproductive health care services to out-of-state patients.
  • Protect abortion providers’ home addresses from public discovery.
  • Protect reproductive health care records from disclosure in civil actions or criminal investigations.

In the year since the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn the landmark case Roe v. Wade, uncertainty and fear of the life-or-death consequences of more restrictive policies brought voters out to participate in the 2022 election cycle and spurred lobbying throughout this summer.

Advocates have demanded accountability from lawmakers — especially Gov. Josh Shapiro and fellow Democratic lawmakers who now control the state House of Representatives for the first time in 12 years — and pushed them to follow through on promises made on the campaign trail to maintain and expand access to reproductive health care.

Last month, Planned Parenthood Pennsylvania Advocates Executive Director Signe Espinoza told the Capital-Star that though happy to have a Democrat in the governor’s office and one Democratically-controlled chamber, she is frustrated by legislative inaction.

“We’re so grateful that, yet again, abortion voters showed up because this is important to them,” Espinoza said. “But we know that maintaining the status quo and not pushing on our issues is really making it so that this state falls short.”

In a statement, Espinoza praised the proposed Abortions Protections Act — calling the lawmakers “champions for access to sexual and reproductive health care.”

“We applaud their efforts with this package of legislation, and Planned Parenthood Pennsylvania Advocates will always support bills that protect and expand access to sexual and reproductive health care,” she said.

The proposed package also has support from the Women’s Law Project. Amal Bass, its interim co-executive director, said the act would “proactively” fight efforts to restrict abortion access in Pennsylvania and out-of-state.

Last year, GOP lawmakers and a handful of Democrats voted to approve a five-part amendment package that, if approved by voters, would amend the state Constitution to declare there is “no constitutional right to taxpayer-funded abortion or other right relating to abortion.”

Language for the abortion-related proposal came from a bill introduced by Sen. Judy Ward, R-Blair, a former nurse, who — along with others who supported the package — said existing law wouldn’t change immediately. They also argued that a ballot question gives voters the ultimate say on abortion access in Pennsylvania.

Reproductive rights advocates and medical providers said the proposed amendment would impose an abortion ban across the commonwealth, arguing that medical decisions should be between patients and their doctors, not the general public.

Since the 2022 general election, Pennsylvania lawmakers have not advanced that specific amendment. After the Dobbs decision, voters in five states moved to either enshrine abortion access into their constitutions or reject restrictions.

However, they did wrap language proposing sweeping legislative authority over regulations into a three-part amendment package, Senate Bill 1, which some lawmakers and advocates fear could let elected officials change the regulatory conditions that allow providers to offer abortion care.

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