Republican state senators have introduced a bill that proposes a constitutional amendment that would clarify that there is no right to abortion or taxpayer funding of it in Pennsylvania.
SB956, introduced by Senator Kim Ward (R-Westmoreland) and others, would amend Article I of the state constitution to “protect the life of every unborn child from conception to birth.” The legislation would also ban any taxpayer funding for abortion procedures. HB 2252, sponsored by Donna Oberlander (R-Clarion) is spurred by Allegheny Reproductive Health Center v. PA Department of Human Services., a lawsuit against the state Human Services Department claiming the state’s Medicaid abortion coverage ban implemented in 1985 violates the Equal Rights Amendment and equal protection provisions of the state constitution.
“In order to prevent Pennsylvania’s abortion laws from being struck down, I am proposing a simple amendment to the Pennsylvania Constitution clarifying that there is no right to an abortion or abortion funding within Pennsylvania’s constitution,” Oberlander wrote in her legislative memorandum. “This amendment is designed to maintain our laws regulating abortion and preventing the taxpayer funding of elective abortion and to allow Pennsylvania to continue to enact pro-life laws that are vital to protecting the life and health of women and their pre-born children.”
Gov. Tom Wolf responded in a statement that “Since taking office, there have been six different anti-abortion bills introduced by members of Pennsylvania’s General Assembly. I have vetoed three of those bills placed on my desk for signature and vowed to veto the rest. Yet, members continue to advance additional legislation that would restrict access to abortions in the commonwealth.”
In a memo to the Pennsylvania Senate Health and Human Services Committee, Elizabeth Randol, legislative director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, wrote that “SB 956 would not only strip away the state’s established right to legal abortion, but it could pave the way for more extreme abortion restrictions than we already have in the commonwealth. Amending our constitution to remove the right to abortion—with no exceptions for life-threatening conditions or for cases of rape or incest—is a first step to banning abortion in Pennsylvania.”
Any proposed constitutional amendment in Pennsylvania would be posed as a separate ballot question in an upcoming election. The earliest the question could appear on a ballot would be in the 2023 primary.
The U.S. Supreme Court has indicated an openness to new restrictions on abortion over the past two months. The Court is considering a Mississippi law that bans abortions after 15 weeks. If the law is upheld, activists have indicated that attention would shift to Pennsylvania, Kansas, Michigan and Wisconsin.