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]

Senate Stands Up for Women’s Health

—  Rabbi David Saperstein, Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism

We commend the Senate for standing up for women’s health and rejecting a bill that would have denied all federal funds to Planned Parenthood, a vital health care service provider. Each year, Planned Parenthood’s network of more than 800 clinics nationwide provides nearly one million cervical cancer screenings, 830,000 breast exams, affordable birth control for nearly 2.5 million patients, and nearly four million tests and treatments for sexually transmitted infections, including HIV testing. Revoking Planned Parenthood’s federal funding would have disastrous consequences for all of these services and would not change a fact that has endured for decades: that no federal funds, received by Planned Parenthood or any other organization, can be used for abortion services.

The Senate’s action was especially heartening given that the same bill passed the House of Representatives earlier in the day. We have repeatedly condemned such attempts in the House to undermine women’s access to critical health care services, including abortion. These attempts violate the U.S. Constitution and core principles of Jewish tradition, which affirms society’s obligations to ensure access to health care and the rights of women to make moral decisions about their own bodies and their own reproductive health. Women are commanded to care for their health and well-being above all else, and society is commanded to provide health care for its most vulnerable residents. These dual obligations compel us to advocate for broad access to affordable reproductive health care and support Planned Parenthood in its efforts to reach millions of under-served men and women.

We call on the House to stop its relentless attacks on reproductive choice and women’s health, beginning with an end to the campaign to de-fund Planned Parenthood.

Statement from Planned Parenthood follows the jump.
— Dayle Steinberg, President and CEO of Planned Parenthood Southeastern Pennsylvania

Yesterday, the US Senate listened to millions of American women and voted, 58-42, to reject H. Con. Res. 36, an extreme proposal to bar Planned Parenthood from providing preventive health service, including birth control, breast and cervical cancer screenings, and STI (including HIV) testing to patients who are covered by Medicaid and other federal programs.

Planned Parenthood applauds the members of Congress who stood up for women’s health and voted against this proposal.

This vote is a major victory for women’s health and the millions of women who go to Planned Parenthood for health care.

Hundreds of thousands of Americans across the country made their voices heard in support of Planned Parenthood and opposed this radical proposal by calling Congress, writing and e-mailing their elected officials, and attending rallies. The grassroots support for Planned Parenthood was extensive.

This extreme proposal was rightly rejected by Democrats and Republicans. In addition, members of Congress who support abortion rights, as well as those who oppose abortion rights, voted against this proposal, which would have denied women family planning and would have resulted in an increase in unintended pregnancy.

Even though the House Republican leadership insisted on forcing an up or down vote in the House and Senate on this extreme proposal yesterday, all their political maneuvering accomplished was to show that the House leadership is willing to sacrifice women’s health to advance a narrow ideological agenda.

While we are outraged that the House voted to pass H. Con. Res. 36 by a vote of 241-185, the outcome of that vote was not a surprise.

Any member of Congress who voted for this extreme proposal just cast a vote against women’s access to lifesaving cancer screenings and birth control.

More than 90 percent of the health care Planned Parenthood provides – and 100 percent of the care it provides through federal programs – is preventive. We do not want one woman to be diagnosed with advanced cancer that our health centers could have detected early through screening, and we’re appalled that a fringe element of Congress would continue to put its narrow political agenda ahead of women’s health and safety.

Thankfully, the Senate has made clear this extreme proposal is unacceptable and rejected it.

Response from Jews for Sarah

— Benyamin Korn, Jewish Americans for Sarah Palin

Regarding David Streeter’s rather shrill indictment of our ad in the Washington Jewish Week for a shabbaton featuring a public talk by Gov. Sarah Palin, in conjunction with the pro-life group Heroic Media: JewsForSarah is proud to be offering this event in conjunction with the banquet dinner of Heroic Media. Our sole reason for not describing Heroic Media’s pro-life mission in our ad for the shabbaton (a question raised originally by Politico‘s Ben Smith) — there simply was no room to do so.

It is typical of news media treatment of Gov. Palin to want to divert the conversation about her to side issues. As our ad indicates, JewsForSarah‘s main reasons for supporting her are our opposition to the “progressive” takeover of the American government, our opposition to Pres. Obama’s relentless diplomatic pressure on Israel, our support for American energy independence, and our opposition to the runaway fiscal and spending policies of Pres. Obama and the “progressive” Democrats. We support Gov. Palin because we find her to be the most effective public advocate for these positions, and the President’s most effective critic.

But since he fairly raises the question of our cooperation with a pro-life group, may I say that Mr. Streeter does an injustice simply by throwing the label “anti-choice” onto Heroic Media and their work. Anyone may visit, where this self-description is found:

Heroic media’s mission is to reduce abortion and create a Culture of Life by connecting women facing unexpected pregnancies to life-affirming resource centers.

More after the jump.

This type of work may not be pro-abortion, but it is hard to see how it is “anti-choice.”

Now Mr. Streeter may take a certain comfort that many American Jews keep him company in the precincts of the “pro-choice” movement. And some JewsForSarah supporters agree with him, nevertheless rallying behind Gov. Palin for the reasons stated above.

But we are astonished by the silence in morally-attuned Jewish circles to the stark fact that 87,273 abortions were performed in New York City in the year 2009 (we do not have Philadelphia data), where a staggering 41% of pregnancies ended in abortion. Among African-American women in New York in that year, nearly 60% of pregnancies were ended by abortion. (New York Sun)

Moreover, in our view, the Jewish community suffers from a demographic crisis of our own, and would do well to more fully embrace a “Culture of Life.” (Perhaps even needing our own Heroic Jewish Media.)

Finally, as to Mr. Streeter’s denunciation of Gov. Palin’s “extremist position on women’s rights,” Philadelphia Jewish Voice readers are recommended to Kay Hymowitz’s excellent essay, Sarah Palin and the Battle for Feminism. If Mr. Streeter believes that orthodox, left-wing feminism still holds a monopoly on the American women’s movement, he was disproved on Nov. 4, 2010, when an unprecedented number of conservative, mostly Republican, women shattered numerous glass ceilings and entered American public office, and he is in for a rather rude awakening in November 2012.  

Jews for Palin Advertises and Sponsors anti-Choice Event with Palin

— David Streeter, Communications and Research Associate for the NJDC

As further proof of the distance between rumored 2012 Presidential candidate Sarah Palin and the vast majority of American Jews, Palin’s primary group of Jewish supporters will be co-hosting an overtly anti-choice event with Palin in Maryland this month. Curiously though, as Politico‘s Ben Smith reported, the anti-choice focus of the event is omitted from the event advertisement that was placed in Washington Jewish Week:

Sarah Palin is scheduled to speak later this month in Washington, D.C.’s Maryland suburbs at an event being promoted by her Jewish supporters.

The event is in fact a benefit for Heroic Media, an anti-abortion group, where Palin will share the stage with anti-Planned Parenthood activist Lila Rose. Abortion isn’t, traditionally, an issue of particular concern even in the Orthodox Jewish community, and the ad above, which appeared in Washington Jewish Week, makes no mention of abortion. Heroic Media’s announcement, meanwhile, makes no mention of the Jewish event.

The upcoming event is not only a demonstration of Palin’s extremist positions on women’s rights, but also an indication that even her own supporters know that her extremist positions must be masked in order to engage Jews. The event further demonstrates that the Republican Party and its leaders simply do not reflect the values and positions of the vast majority of American Jews. Worse, it demonstrates and confirms the willingness by some right-wing partisans to use misleading advertising campaigns to cover up the ever-widening gap between the GOP and American Jews.  

Your Representative: Working Hard or Hardly Working

— DocJess

Welcome to the start of the 112th Congress.  In addition to getting more paid vacation time then any other group of people, including union workers and even most part time workers, Congress generally doesn’t meet Monday or Friday. That’s 102 scheduled vacation days (exclusive of the Monday/Friday deal) with adjournment on 8 December, leading to an additional 16 days off. Strikes me as obscene. If I owned a company and paid someone in the neighborhood of $250,000/year in salary, benefits and perks (exclusive of the office budget) – I’d expect that person to work more than he/she took vacation. But maybe that’s just me. You can see the full calendar here.

Then again, this might be a good year for gridlock, given what the House led by the Tan Man and his DeMint-led cohorts in the Senate want to do.  
On their agenda:

  • Repeal healthcare. And no, this won’t happen.
  • Repeal safe and legal abortion. This might happen.
  • Repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”. NOT gonna happen.
  • Debt ceiling? The tea baggers are already up in arms about what the lame duck Congress did, and they do not want to raise it. Hopefully, cooler heads amoung the Republican intelligencia (sole member: Karl Rove) and the GOP members who have been around long enough to want to come back for an additional term will prevail.
  •  Spending bills: remember there’s no budget, just a continuing budget resolution that will need to be renewed/reviewed/reconsidered/beaten with a stick in February.
  • White House ethics trials.

Adapted from DemConWatch.