Pa. House Speaker Mike Turzai will reintroduce Down syndrome abortion ban bill

    Pa. House Speaker Mike Turzai, R-Allegheny ("Friends of Mike Turzai" / WikiMedia Commons)

    Pennsylvania’s state House Speaker has fired the first shots of 2019’s culture war, saying he plans to reintroduce a controversial bill that would ban abortions based on a diagnosis of Down syndrome, even though critics say the legislation is practically unenforceable and most likely unconstitutional.

    Rep. Mike Turzai, an Allegheny County Republican, sponsored a similar bill during last year’s legislative session. It cleared the House and a state Senate committee, but was never brought to a final vote. Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat, and staunch abortion-rights supporter, opposed the bill.

    “Under current law, a woman can obtain an abortion prior to 24 weeks gestational age for any reason if a physician deems it is necessary, except if the woman’s sole reason is to select the sex of the child,” Turzai and his chief co-sponsor,  Rep. Kate Klunk, R-York wrote in a “Dear Colleague” memo posted Wednesday. “This bill will expand that exception to prohibit aborting the child solely due to a prenatal diagnosis that the unborn child has Down Syndrome. Nothing in this proposal would interfere with the existing ability of a woman to obtain an abortion in cases of rape, incest or endangerment to the mother, which are contained in different sections of the Abortion Control Act.”

    During debate last year, Turzai and other supporters tried to portray the bill as an effort to protect the rights of disabled Pennsylvanians. But critics pointed out that the legislation, as it was written at the time, included no assistance for parents who might be expecting a child diagnosed with Down syndrome.

    The bill also became the subject of a proxy fight between House and Senate leaders as debate over the 2018-19 budget moved into its final weeks. 

    On Wednesday, critics again pounced, with one dismissing it as “disingenuous.”

    An award-winning political journalist with more than 25 years' experience in the news business, John L. Micek is The Pennsylvania Capital-Star's Editor-in-Chief. Before joining The Capital-Star, Micek spent six years as Opinion Editor at PennLive/The Patriot-News in Harrisburg, Pa., where he helped shape and lead a multiple-award-winning Opinion section for one of Pennsylvania's most-visited news websites. Prior to that, he spent 13 years covering Pennsylvania government and politics for The Morning Call of Allentown, Pa. His career has also included stints covering Congress, Chicago City Hall and more municipal meetings than he could ever count, Micek contributes regular analysis and commentary to a host of broadcast outlets, including CTV-News in Canada and talkRadio in London, U.K., as well as "Face the State" on CBS-21 in Harrisburg, Pa.; "Pennsylvania Newsmakers" on WGAL-8 in Lancaster, Pa., and the Pennsylvania Cable Network. His weekly column on American politics is syndicated nationwide to more than 800 newspapers by Cagle Syndicate.


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