In recent weeks, members of Pennsylvania's congressional delegation have gotten a chance to see what democracy looks like via a deluge of calls, emails and tweets about a variety of issues such as immigration, health care and Cabinet confirmations - and not a few of them are surprised by the sight. Now it's time for members of the Pennsylvania Legislature to get a taste, as well.
The majority of state senators on Wednesday showed their disdain not only to the U.S. Constitution, but also to medical science and the wishes of its citizens by voting, 32-18, to ban abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy. (Pennsylvania already does not allow abortions after 24 weeks.) The bill also would prohibit the use of an abortion procedure that doctors say is the safest in most second trimester abortions.
The bill is similar to abortion bans already passed in states such as Arizona, Idaho and Georgia that have been blocked from taking effect because of the simple fact that they are unconstitutional. The Roe v. Wade decision protects the right to choose abortion in the first and second trimesters, at least for now.
The Senate fast-tracked the bill, voting on it only a week after it was introduced. A nearly identical bill was passed in the Pennsylvania House last session and will be reintroduced in March. If that bill passes, it will go to the desk of Gov. Wolf, who has vowed to veto it. Conservative legislators do not appear to have the two-thirds majority needed to override, but they're close.
Given past practice, it was not all that shocking that the Senate bill (as well as the House bill passed last year) was not given a public hearing. A hearing would have exposed the junk science and disinformation that is being used to promote it.
Calling it "Pain-Capable/Dismemberment Legislation" suggests that a fetus can feel pain at 20 weeks, when actual scientists put that level of neurological development at 28 weeks or later. Lurid descriptions like "dismemberment" used to describe the dilation and evacuation procedure are misleading appeals to emotion that intrude on decisions that are the private domain of a woman and her doctor.
The bill's supporters also assert falsely that new science shows that viability (when the fetus could possibly live outside the womb) is earlier than 24 weeks. Sen. Stewart Greenleaf (R., Montgomery County) even went so far as to claim, "Children are being aborted who are viable." He, of course, offered no evidence, and, in the absence of a public hearing, he didn't have to.
In Pennsylvania in 2015, 380 abortions were performed after 20 weeks, out of a total of 38,818 - that's less than 1 percent. But the legislation - and the hasty way it was passed - poses a threat to everyone's reproductive rights, not to mention the democratic process. A law like this could lead to a challenge to Roe that would make all abortions illegal. Besides, overwhelming majorities of Pennsylvanians don't want them to spend time on this issue when many more pressing needs face the commonwealth. Our representatives should, well, represent us.
Let them hear how you feel. Click on "Find Your Legislator" on the state website and call. Hundreds of thousands of citizens are learning they can make a difference in the United States. That goes for Pennsylvania, as well.