The Lead

In Philly, Wolf doubles down on vow to veto ‘heartbeat’ abortion ban

By: - November 1, 2019 2:36 pm

Gov. Tom Wolf (Commonwealth Media Services photo)

If abortion rights advocates in Pennsylvania know one thing, they know that any attempt by state lawmakers to restrict the procedure will hit a brick wall in Gov. Tom Wolf, who’s vowed to veto any and all such legislation that reaches his desk.

In case they’d forgotten, however, the Democratic governor reaffirmed that vow during a stop in Philadelphia on Friday, where he doubled-down on a promise to veto recently introduced legislation that would ban abortion as soon as doctors can detect a fetal heartbeat. That can happen as early as six weeks’ gestation, which is before most people even know they’re pregnant.

“Politicians should not be in a doctor’s office. Make no mistake about it, while the General Assembly cleverly names anti-health care choice bills things like ‘Heartbeat Bill,’ this is an attack on women’s personal freedoms, personal choice, and personal liberties,” said Wolf, who was flanked by legislative allies and advocates, as well as Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney.

Two freshman lawmakers, Rep. Stephanie Borowicz, R-Clinton, and Sen. Doug Mastriano, R-Adams, rolled out the latest ban bills during a Capitol news conference 10 days ago.

The two lawmakers made it clear that they won’t be stopped by the threat of a gubernatorial veto. They also made it clear that the bills were an opening marker, and said they’re willing to wait out Wolf, who will be term-limited out of office in 2022.

In a statement, Eric Failing, executive director of the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference, stood behind the bills and the two lawmakers.

“The unmistakable sound of a heartbeat is universally recognized as a sign of life,” he said.  “I don’t know why this has become politicized. Issues of life and death are too important to be political footballs.”

In Philadelphia on Friday, Kenney called the new ban bills, and others like them, “yet another attack on the rights and reproductive health of individuals seeking healthcare services that are personal and unique to them. These bills jeopardize health, especially in the instance of high-risk pregnancies, and I appreciate the governor’s leadership on this very important issue.”

Ashley Lenker White, the executive director of Planned Parenthood of Pennsylvania, said lawmakers’ time would be better spent on “promoting laws that support Pennsylvania families and expand reproductive health resources and access, rather than interfering in private medical decisions.”

If Wolf’s veto pen isn’t the final barrier to such proposals becoming laws, then the courts may well be.

Several states, including Ohio, Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Missouri passed heartbeat laws trying to ban or limit abortions; all have been blocked from taking effect on constitutional grounds, Wolf’s office said.

In a Capital-Star op-Ed, Alexa Kolbi-Molinas, of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Reproductive Freedom Project, said the organization remains committed to defending attacks on abortion access.

“Despite strong public support for safe, supported abortion care, these politicians hope that the balance of the Supreme Court has turned against abortion rights with enough votes to aggressively and systematically dismantle abortion access,” Kolbi-Molinas wrote. “Not on our watch.”

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John L. Micek
John L. Micek

A 3-decade veteran of the news business, John L. Micek is the Pennsylvania Capital-Star's Editor-in-Chief. An award-winning political reporter, Micek’s career has taken him from small town meetings and Chicago City Hall to Congress and the Pennsylvania Capitol. His weekly column on U.S. politics is syndicated to 800 newspapers nationwide by Cagle Syndicate. He also contributes commentary and analysis to broadcast outlets in the U.S., Canada and the U.K. Micek’s first novel, “Ordinary Angels,” was released in 2019 by Sunbury Press.