Hundreds of abortion rights supporters crowded the Capitol Rotunda on Tuesday to rally against legislation they say is an attack on women’s health care.
The protestors - led by veteran women’s rights activists Eleanor Smeal and Kate Michelman - waved signs that read “No Clinics No Choice,” and chanted “We’ve Had Enough,” the slogan of a new group aimed at halting what it calls a flood of anti-abortion legislation sweeping statehouses across the country.
“This is a war on women,” said Smeal, former president of the National Organization for Women (NOW) and now president of the Feminist Majority Foundation. “We are intent on stopping that war here in Pennsylvania.”
The rally, co-sponsored by Pennsylvanians for Choice and Raising Women's Voices of Southeastern Pennsylvania, comes in response to Republican-led bills aimed at restricting abortion funding and tightening restrictions on health clinics where abortions are performed.
Spurred by the “house of horrors” murder case involving Philadelphia abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell, House and Senate Republicans drafted legislation in January to tighten restrictions on abortion clinic providers and limit abortion coverage through state-run insurance exchanges.
Gosnell is facing murder charges in connection with the grisly deaths of seven infants and a woman in a filthy West Philadelphia clinic he operated for three decades.
Members of the General Assembly’s “Pro-Life” caucus held a press conference Monday to urge the chambers to give final approval the legislation, which has passed the Senate but faces amendments in the House.
Senate Bill 732 would hold abortion clinics to the same licensing and health standards as outpatient surgical centers. A second bill would forbid abortion coverage through state-run insurance exchanges now scheduled to open in 2014 (SB3).
Sen. Jane Orie, (R., Allegheny) and other lawmakers said their bills are not intended to restrict access to a legal medical procedure, but rather are an effort to protect women's health by tighting standards.
But speakers at the rally Tuesday attacked the clinic bill as “pernicious” and accused its sponsors of being “duplicitous.”
Obstetrician/gynecologist Dr. Willie J. Parker said lawmakers were using the case of one “rogue” abortion doctor to pass legislation that would lead to clinic closures and punish women by forcing them to seek back alley abortions or travel longer distances for health services and birth control.
“We will not allow this misguided legislation to undermind the safety of all women in Pennsylvania,” said Parker, who performs abortions at the Philadelphia Women’s Center. “Abortion care is already heavily regulated and extremely safe.”
Smeal and Michelman, both of whom have long ties to Pennsylvania (Smeal grew up in Erie and Michelman has lived here on and off since the early 1960s.), said they feel like the political clock is turning back to the days before abortion was legal.
“It feels like we’re starting from scratch again, when the rights and the health of women were so desperately threatened,” said Michelman, the former president of the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League (NARAL). “We need a full-fledged movement again.”
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