Wolf and Kenney decry Senate bill restricting abortions

Gov. Tom Wolf, left, and Karen Agatone, during a press conference opposing Senate Bill 3, creating the most extreme restrictions on abortion in the country, Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2017, in Philadelphia.

Gov. Wolf and Mayor Kenney held a joint news conference Wednesday in Philadelphia to decry a state Senate bill that would ban abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, rolling back the current law that allows abortions at 24 weeks.

“I truly can’t believe we are still having this debate. The Supreme Court ruled in favor of women’s health decades ago.… Sadly, some legislators are still trying to keep safe and legal abortions out of reach,” Kenney said.

The bill, championed by Republicans who control the Senate, passed last week in a 32-18 vote. It now moves to the GOP-controlled House.

Wolf vowed to veto the bill if it reaches his desk.

The bill, which did not receive a hearing or input from the medical community before the Senate voted on it, has received significant pushback from medical organizations in the state, as well as women's groups and members of families who have had to make difficult decisions for medical reasons about continuing a pregnancy.

At Wednesday’s news conference, Wolf said he wanted those voices to be heard.

Karen Agatone spoke about her decision to abort her baby girl after a 20-week ultrasound revealed that the baby had a severe case of dwarfism. Doctors told Agatone that the baby’s lungs would not be able to grow into her chest, and that she would likely die within hours or days following birth “and would be suffering the entire time.”

“My husband and I made the heartbreaking choice to terminate my pregnancy and let Evelyn be at peace,” Agatone said. “It was the only decision we would have to make for her as parents.”

She was 21 weeks pregnant when she had her abortion.

“Less than three months later, I conceived, and today I have a healthy 3-month-old son who is the light of my life,” she said. “If S.B. 3 was in effect during my first pregnancy, I would not have my son in my arms today.”

Erica Goldblatt Hyatt also spoke about her decision to have an abortion when she was five months' pregnant in 2012 and found out her baby boy had not developed a trachea. She said she had three choices — let him die inside the womb as his lungs crushed his heart “more and more each day,” carry to term and deliver a stillborn or brain-dead baby, or terminate her pregnancy. She opted for the last, after researching and meeting with various doctors.

Beyond the 20-week provision, the bill would also sharply curtail a procedure known as dilation and evacuation, often used in second-trimester abortions, according to medical experts. The bill refers to the procedure as "dismemberment abortion," although that is not a medically accepted or defined term, and says doctors who perform it could be charged with a felony.

Kenney chided the state Republicans for not allowing Agatone, Hyatt, and others like them to testify on the bill.

“It got rammed through in a very undemocratic way,” Kenney said.

Wolf added: “I just wish the Senate had allowed these women to testify.”

Jennifer Kocher, spokeswoman for Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman (R. Centre), said the Senate does not have hearings on every bill, but does on topics about which the majority of members feel they need additional information. 

"That just simply wasn't the case here," she said. But she said there was nothing stopping members from getting additional information about the proposal.

Hours before the mayor and governor spoke, House Speaker Mike Turzai issued a statement praising the Senate for passing the bill and applauding a similar measure that will be introduced in the House.  

Rep. Kathy Rapp (R., Warren) has said she plans to reintroduce abortion legislation that the House passed by 132-65 last year.

“It is important the legislature send one of these bills, Rep. Rapp’s House Bill 77 or Senate Bill 3, to Gov. Tom Wolf’s desk,” Turzai (R., Allegheny) said in the statement. “The passage of these bills is evidence of bipartisan and bicameral support to protect unborn children and mothers and demonstrates the commonwealth’s commitment to promoting a culture of life.”

Asked if he would support the House bill, rather than the Senate's, Wolf said he would veto both.

Staff writer Angela Couloumbis and Karen Langley of the Harrisburg bureau contributed to this article.

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