Pennsylvania Republicans postponed a vote Monday on a measure that would criminalize a commonly used abortion procedure after Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards spoke during a press conference alongside women who relied on that procedure to end their pregnancies.
HB 1948, sponsored by Rep. Kathy Rapp (R-Warren), would criminalize the procedure used for second-trimester abortion care and ban abortion after 20 weeks’ gestation. Current Pennsylvania law bans abortion care after 24 weeks’ gestation.
The bill bans so-called dismemberment abortion, targeting the dilation and evacuation (D and E) procedure that is commonly used after miscarriages and in second-trimester abortion care. The procedure is a method of abortion during which a physician dilates a patient’s cervix and removes the fetus using forceps, clamps, or other instruments.
A physician who performs the procedure would be guilty of a third-degree felony, which carries a penalty of up to seven years in prison and up to $15,000 in fines.
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The press conference was punctuated by Gov. Tom Wolf (D) repeating his threat to veto the GOP bill if it reached his desk. “This legislation would be a step back for women,” Wolf said, reported the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “This legislation would be a huge step back for Pennsylvania.”
Richards said lawmakers dictating medical practices would endanger pregnant people throughout the state.
“Politicians are the last people who should be making decisions about women’s pregnancies,” Richards said, reported the Associated Press. “This bill doesn’t make women safer. It actually puts them at risk.”
Republicans in the house had planned to bring the bill up for a vote Monday, after passing the bill through committee the week before.
Karen Agatone, a resident of Doylestown, said at the press conference that during a pregnancy last summer, a 20-week ultrasound identified severe dwarfism that gave the fetus no chance of survival. Agatone made the decision to terminate the pregnancy with the D and E procedure.
“As painful as it was, we had to accept that she was not meant for this earth,” Agatone said, reported the Associated Press. “I want people to know that abortion is not about the unwanted, the unvalued, and the unknown babies of the world. Her life mattered to us, and it will always matter to us.”
The bill includes an exception when the D and E procedure is necessary to prevent “either the death of the pregnant woman or the substantial and irreversible impairment of a major bodily function of the woman.” There is no exception for rape, incest, or fetal anomaly.
Kelsey Williams, a resident of Wilkinsburg, said during the press conference that a 20-week ultrasound revealed that the fetus had deformities that were incompatible with life. Williams and her husband chose to terminate the pregnancy.
She said she had a strong emotional reaction when a friend told her about the pending anti-choice legislation.
“I couldn’t think straight,” Williams said, reported PennLive. “I was sick to my stomach and it made me sweat to think that my home state that I’m so proud of, wanted to do this to me, and to other women, and to families.”
Any votes on the bill have been postponed until at least after the April 26 primary election. The legislature adjourns Wednesday and reconvenes in May.
If the Republican-dominated legislature passes the bill and the governor follows through with his threat of veto, the legislature could override the governor’s veto with a two-thirds vote of both houses. Republicans hold a 31-19 state senate advantage, and control the house 119 to 84.