A bill proposing an amendment to the Pennsylvania constitution that would limit abortions is making its way through Harrisburg, prompting concern among abortion rights advocates that sweeping changes could occur in the Commonwealth.
Introduced by Senator Judy Ward (R., Blair County) late last year, Senate Bill 956 seeks to amend the Commonwealth constitution to add language stating that “there is no right to abortion” in the state, and that nothing in the state constitution “requires the funding of taxpayers for abortion”. The Senate Committee on Health and Human Services approved the bill along party lines Tuesday.
In a noteWard said the proposed constitutional amendment was prompted by a trial in the Supreme Court of the State of Pennsylvania which seeks to demand public funding for abortions for low-income women through Medicaid. Pennsylvania Medicaid laws have restricted coverage for most abortions since 1985.
The call for a constitutional amendment also comes as the U.S. Supreme Court is set to overturn Roe vs. Wade, which established the constitutional right to abortion, in a case involving Mississippi’s 15-week abortion ban. And Governor Tom Wolf, a Democrat who has vetoed several anti-abortion bills, will leave office in January 2023.
Here’s what you need to know:
Supporters of the bill say that, if passed, the proposed amendment would prevent abortions from being covered by taxpayers’ money. It would also ensure that state legislators make decisions on abortion policies, rather than the courts, said Maria Gallagher, legislative director of the Pennsylvania Pro-Life Federation.
Yes Roe vs. Wade is overturned, states could establish stricter rules limiting abortions.
“It has an element of allowing people, through elected representatives, to make laws, rather than having the courts decide policy on life issues,” Gallagher said.
Abortion rights advocates, however, fear the amendment could lay the groundwork for lawmakers to severely restrict or ban abortion in Pennsylvania. It is a possibility if Roe vs. Wade is overthrown, and we see a “hostile legislature and an anti-abortion governor” elected, said David S. Cohen, a Drexel University professor and attorney in the Medicaid case currently before the state Supreme Court.
“The real danger here is that it looks like the Supreme Court of the United States is going to drastically curtail abortion rights,” Cohen said. “That would let Pennsylvanians rely on the Pennsylvania Constitution [for abortion rights]and this amendment attempts to prevent that possibility.
READ MORE: How the Mississippi Supreme Court case could impact abortion access in Pennsylvania and New Jersey
Abortions in Pennsylvania are governed primarily by abortion control law, which includes a number of abortion access laws. Among other things, Pennsylvania:
Prohibits abortions after 24 weeks of pregnancy
Parental authorization required for children under 18
Institutes a 24-hour waiting period
Requires consultation to discuss risks and alternatives
Public funds can only be used to perform abortions in case of rape or incest, or if the life of the mother is in danger.
Some abortion rights advocates fear the proposed amendment will impact other sexual and reproductive health care. Its wording is intended to “protect the life of every unborn child, from conception to birth,” which potentially means a range of treatments and procedures could be affected, said Signe Espinoza, executive director of Planned Parenthood Pennsylvania. Advocates.
“The wording of the bill is subject to interpretation. So this could have implications for contraception, in vitro fertilization, the treatment of miscarriages and, more generally, whether or not a pregnant person is able to make their own medical decisions about how and whether they give birth. Espinoza said.
No. Because this is a constitutional amendment, the governor – Wolf or otherwise – is not involved and cannot use his veto power. Instead, it follows a different process.
To be put to a vote, proposed constitutional amendments must pass both houses of the General Assembly two consecutive sessions. From there, they become referendums that Pennsylvania voters can approve or reject directly in an election. If a majority of voters support the amendment, it becomes part of the constitution and comes into force.
Often, Spotlight PA recently reported, voters approve of proposed constitutional amendments. In fact, since 1968, only six of the 49 proposed amendments that have reached voters have been voted down. And lawmakers are increasingly relying on the amendments, proposing more than 70 changes to the state constitution since January 2021.
» READ MORE: A Complete Guide and Amendment Tracker to Proposed Changes to the Pennsylvania Constitution
At national scale, polls have shown broad support for abortion in many cases, as well as support for maintaining Roe v. Wade. In Pennsylvania, an October Franklin and Marshall poll found that 51% of respondents believed abortion should be legal under certain circumstances. 36% said it should be legal under all circumstances and 11% said it should be illegal under all circumstances.