Bill to limit PA abortions voted out of committee

HARRISBURG (AP) – A Republican-crafted bill that would place new limits on abortion has cleared a Pennsylvania legislative committee Monday, three days after the amendments to the Abortion Control Act were first made public and introduced in written form.

The House Health committee voted 16-10 for the proposal that would prohibit elective abortions after 20 weeks, compared to 24 in current law.

It also would criminalize performing what it terms “dismemberment abortions,” or procedures that cause the deaths of fetuses by removing their body parts. Those procedures would still be allowed if needed to save the mother’s life or prevent her from suffering the impairment of a major bodily function.

Rep. Jason Dawkins, D-Philadelphia, said he didn’t see how he belonged, as a legislator, in a conversation between a woman and her doctor about whether to have an abortion. He warned that making abortion more difficult could lead some women to seek out unsafe alternatives.

“If we put certain restrictions on a woman’s choice, will they start looking for that other option?” Dawkins said.

The proposed restrictions would address “a violent death for a baby that can, most likely, feel pain,” said Rep. Judy Ward, R-Blair. “If that happened to animals, people would be outraged.”

A spokesman for the House’s Republican majority said after the committee vote that the proposal will be reviewed but there were no immediate plans for a floor vote to send it to the Senate.

The president of the Pennsylvania Medical Society wrote lawmakers on Monday to say it was opposed to the bill on grounds that it “sets a dangerous precedent by legislating specific protocols.”

The bill is being proposed just as Pennsylvania is braced for several weeks of campaigning ahead of the April 26 primary, including active contests for the two major party presidential nominations.

Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat, has promised to veto the measure if it’s sent to him.

“This bill is unconstitutional because it changes from 24 weeks to 20 weeks the time for an abortion,” Wolf spokesman Jeff Sheridan said. “The U.S. Supreme Court has held that a state does not have an interest in regulating the unborn prior to 24 weeks so a state cannot regulate abortions prior to 24 weeks.”

Republicans defeated a bid to delay the committee vote for public hearings. Two Democrats sided with all 14 Republicans voting “yes” on the bill.

The bill has attracted 101 co-sponsors, including at least 11 Democrats, in the 203-seat House.