PA Senate to Vote on Restrictive Abortion Bills

by Anne Grant

Reacting to the Gosnell scandal that has rocked Pennsylvania’s ongoing controversy over abortion rights, the State Senate plans to vote next week on measures that would seriously restrict abortion access for women.

During the week of May 23, the Pennsylvania State Senate plans to weigh two new proposals, Senate Bills 732 and 3.

If passed, Senate Bill 732 would change the inspection procedures mandated for abortion clinics. So far, it has already passed the Senate Health and Public Welfare Committee by a 10-1 vote.

Senator Bob Mensch from Bucks County is responsible for putting forward this bill, titled the Mensch Amendment.  Essentially, the amendment would require clinics which perform abortions after nine weeks of pregnancy to follow the regulations adhered to by ambulatory surgical facilities.

On the other hand, Senate Bill 3 would forbid insurance companies from covering abortion costs for women. This change would take place amid insurance exchanges according to federal health care reform; the state would simply choose not to pay for these abortions.

Heavily restricting abortion access for women in Pennsylvania, these bills have emerged from the January arrest of Kermit Gosnell in Philadelphia.
Gosnell was charged with eight counts of murder after authorities discovered his clinic, where he had spent years performing dangerous, late-term abortions in unsanitary conditions for poor and immigrant women in Philadelphia.

Gosnell was accused of delivering, then killing, seven babies with scissors.  Two women reportedly died from his procedures and many more left the clinic with severely damaged reproductive and excretory organs.

Senate Bill 574, which passed last week, is another reaction to the Gosnell indictment.  This measure has increased the stringency of abortion clinic regulations; as a result, many clinics may have to close or undergo renovations costing hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Several organizations have come forward to express dismay with these bills, which they consider restrictive to women’s access to safe, affordable abortion services.  These associations include the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Planned Parenthood Pennsylvania Advocates, the Women’s Law Project, PA Clergy for Choice, and the Allentown Women’s Center.

Jennifer Boulanger, the executive director of the Allentown Women’s Center, pointed out that no abortion clinics in the state could meet the unreasonable equipment stipulations of new regulations, such as hospital-size elevators and 400-square foot operating rooms.  She also noted that, even if these small abortion clinics could spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on these unnecessary renovations, they could make the changes in the bill’s 60-day allotted time frame.

According to Boulanger, patients would also bear the “skyrocketing” costs of abortions that would result from new, more extensive regulations.  She speculated that the cost could rise from about $350 to over $1,000 for an abortion.  This change would further marginalize poor women in need of reproductive health services.

Boulanger went on to note that, in a state where only 22% of counties have abortion provider, it is imperative for these clinics to stay open.  She alluded to a “public health crisis in the making”-the increase of black market abortions, self-induced abortion attempts by pregnant women, or women having to leave Pennsylvania to receive abortion services.

Additionally, she asserted that Pennsylvania already has a set of regulations to ensure the safety of women who use the state’s 20 abortion providers.

Sue Frietsche of the Women’s Law Project also noted the extensive set of regulations that already exist to protect the safety of women who use abortion services in the state.  She insisted that all of the state’s clinics abide by these safety stipulations.

The Pennsylvania State Senate will consider Bills 732 and 3 next week.

Anne Grant is an intern at the Philadelphia Jewish Voice this summer.  A rising senior at the University of Virginia, she is majoring in Jewish Studies and Middle Eastern Studies.  To contact her with questions or problems with the web site, email her at [email protected]

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