The Allentown City Council has pulled four ordinances that would protect the right to abortion in Allentown from Wednesday’s agenda.
The ordinances were the subject of an August 24 council meeting that was marked by tense moments between the council members and an audience of over 100 members of the public.
The four ordinances, sponsored by members Josh Siegel, Cynthia Mota, Ce-Ce Gerlach, Natalie Santos and Candida Affa, aim to protect abortion rights in Allentown and:
- Establish a “Buffer-zone law” that would mandate protesters stay 15 feet away from hospitals or clinics while demonstrating, aiming to limit anti-abortion advocates’ ability to picket near abortion clinics;
- Order city officials to not cooperate with any out-of-state criminal abortion investigations without a court order;
- Restrict “deceptive advertising practices” of crisis pregnancy centers, which are clinics that aim to persuade pregnant people to not get abortions by highlighting rare health complications;
- Order the police department to “de-prioritize” enforcement of abortion bans, should one pass in Pennsylvania.
“The role of government, especially municipal government, is when there is uncertainty at a state or national level, our role is to make sure we support our people,” Gerlach said. “Reproductive rights are human rights, it’s about women determining what to do with our health, with our future, with our bodies, and it’s that simple.”
Jon Merwarth, executive director of crisis pregnancy center Bright Hope Pregnancy Support Services, disagrees with the restriction of “deceptive advertising practices,” saying it unfairly targets his organization.
Bright Hope says it’s the only facility that falls into this definition in the city and the entire Lehigh Valley. “It’s clearly targeting people who are pro-life,” said Merwarth.
Mota, the Council President, and Vice President Ed Zucal agreed to pull the bills from the agenda over concerns about legal challenges.
Siegel, the Democratic candidate for the open 22nd state representative seat, is the bill’s prime sponsor.
“My goal is to show municipalities what’s possible,” Siegel said.
Greer Donley, a University of Pittsburgh law professor who helped craft the ordinances in both Allentown and Pittsburgh, said Pennsylvania municipalities are in a unique position to pass meaningful abortion protections. The Commonwealth is one of 13 states where neither party holds complete control of the state legislature and governorship.
Siegel said he plans to reintroduce the ordinances “some time in October.”
“I do understand why the decision was made,” Siegel said of the delayed vote. “We should have expected some sort of challenge.”
He said is looking into securing support from the Women’s Law Project to provide pro bono legal support if the city is sued over the ordinances.
“Crisis Pregnancy Centers are anti-abortion organizations that seek to reach and interact with low-income people facing unintended pregnancies to prevent them from accessing abortion and contraception,” said Tara Murtha, Director of Strategic Communications for the Women’s Law Project at a hearing today in Harrisburg. “Historically called CPCs, the anti-abortion movement started calling CPCs “pregnancy help centers” to rebrand in response to bad press about deceptive practices. They are also sometimes called “anti-abortion centers” or “fake clinics.”
Several city officials, including Mayor Matt Tuerk, have expressed concern that some of the ordinances could be legally unenforceable.
“It’s trying to put your arms around something that is nebulous,” Tuerk said. “If abortion is made illegal in the U.S., then we’ve got some work to do on those to make sure that there’s legislation that is enforceable by our law enforcement agencies.”
the story was updated to include a quote from the Women’s Law Project.