Pennsylvania Constitutional Amendment Would Stipulate: No Right to Abortion

A state constitutional amendment that passed both houses of the state legislature last week stipulates that Pennsylvania recognizes neither a right to abortion nor to public funding of abortion.

The legislation stops short of a ban on either surgical or chemically induced abortions but ensures that lawmakers may enact restrictions uninhibited by courts.

In order to become law, the measure must again pass both General Assembly chambers in the next session and then receive voters’ approval as a ballot question. State Senator Judy Ward (R-Hollidaysburg) made a statement on Monday to clear up any possible confusion about what Keystone Staters would then be deciding.

“The language does not ban abortions, but rather ensures that abortion policy in Pennsylvania comes from the people’s elected representatives,” Ward said. 

Legislative approval of the proposed amendment comes mere weeks after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion nationwide. Many Americans objected to Roe because the federal Constitution makes no mention of abortion. Insofar as the state constitution doesn’t mention it either, Pennsylvania’s Republican legislative majority hopes to prevent state courts from doing in Pennsylvania what the U.S. Supreme Court did nationwide a half-century ago.

Pro-life Pennsylvanians have reason for concern in that regard; Democrats currently hold five of the state Supreme Court’s seven seats.

Ward noted that Medicaid, the federal-state healthcare program covering low-income residents, currently pays for abortions in cases when the pregnancy resulted from rape or incest and in cases when the life of the mother is endangered. She further noted that that funding rubric and the commonwealth’s 1989 Abortion Control Act, which imposes parental consent for minors and restricts abortion after 24 weeks of pregnancy, would remain unchanged if the amendment is adopted. 

Democrats have lambasted the legislation, often mischaracterizing it as containing new abortion restrictions. 

“Republicans in the House and the Senate wanted us and forced us to vote on a constitutional amendment to ban abortions,” House Minority Whip Jordan Harris (D-Philadelphia) said in a video message. “Let me be clear: As long as I’m a member of the House of Representatives, as long as I continue to serve you, my constituents, I will never vote to restrict a woman’s right to choose what she wants to do with her body. [This] vote was not just about abortion, but let’s be clear about what this is: [the] vote was about having safe abortions.” 

Democratic lawmakers have responded to Roe’s reversal with their own legislation to ensure general abortion access continues. State Sen. Katie Muth (D-Royersford) is spearheading an effort to codify abortion rights by state statute. Her colleague Steve Santarsiero is sponsoring a constitutional amendment toward the same end as well as to guarantee that gay marriage and other rights not yet overturned by the federal judiciary also remain legal. 

Given the significant majority that passed the Republicans’ constitutional amendment, any pro-abortion legislation clearly lacks the votes for approval in Pennsylvania. 

The legislation containing that amendment includes other constitutional changes which would need to be voted on by Pennsylvania residents separately if passed by the legislature in the next session. One of them would require that any voter show he or she possesses a government-issued identification document in order to cast a ballot. 

Other amendments contained in the Senate bill would task the state auditor general with regularly auditing elections, strengthen the General Assembly’s oversight over state regulations, and let each major party’s gubernatorial candidate pick his or her running mate, doing away with lieutenant governor primaries. 

That last measure is the only one with broad bipartisan support. It passed both legislative chambers by sizable majorities last session and therefore Pennsylvania voters will get a chance to decide on it in an upcoming election.

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Bradley Vasoli is managing editor of The Pennsylvania Daily Star. Follow Brad on Twitter at @BVasoli. Email tips to [email protected].


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