The Lead

Pennsylvania House committee passes bill to prevent courts from cooperating with other states’ anti-abortion laws

By: - November 15, 2023 7:00 am
Abortion rights advocates. (Photo by Astrid Riecken/Getty Images).

(Photo by Astrid Riecken/Getty Images).

The state House Judiciary committee this week advanced a bill that would prohibit Pennsylvania courts from cooperating with other states’ prosecutions of people who violated their anti-abortion laws.

“While we cannot prevent other states from criminalizing abortion, what we can do here in this Commonwealth is to protect individuals who are seeking health care, as well as those who are providing that care,” said state Rep. Melissa Shusterman (D-Chester), co-sponsor of the bill. 

House Bill 1786 would prohibit Pennsylvania courts from cooperating with other states’ civil and criminal cases involving reproductive health care services, Shusterman said. 

Judiciary Committee Executive Director Tim Clawges said HB 1786 would eliminate the ability for other states to use the resources of Pennsylvania to assist in things like serving a subpoena from an out-of-state matter related to healthcare services, or continuing a pursuit across state lines to try to arrest someone in a case involving reproductive health care services. 

Then-Gov. Tom Wolf signed an executive order in July of 2022 that ensured non-Pennsylvania residents could come to the commonwealth for reproductive health care services and not be arrested or detained at the request of another state with stricter abortion laws. A spokesperson for Shusterman told the Capital-Star that  the goal with the bill is to codify the protections into law, so they are not dependent only on an executive order.

Abortion is legal in Pennsylvania up to 24 weeks of pregnancy. 

“This protects the sovereignty of Pennsylvania to allow people to come to Pennsylvania and do something that is legal in Pennsylvania and not be prosecuted for it,” state Rep. Emily Kinkead (D-Allegheny) said. 

But Rep. Katie Klunk (R-York) questioned whether the bill would apply to reproductive healthcare besides abortion, such as a vasectomy. A lot of her constituents access healthcare over the border in Maryland, Klunk said.

“I have major concerns with this, especially since we could have individuals living in the state of Pennsylvania who are the victims of a botched vasectomy or a botched hysterectomy,” Klunk said. “And they will not be able to receive redress from a wrong and a harm that was made to them based on the doctor that may have performed that out of state.”

But Malcolm Kenyatta (D-Philadelphia) said the bill had nothing to do with vasectomies. “And I don’t believe my colleagues with their questions, well intended as they may be, are making these comments because they’re worried about a botched vasectomy,” he said. “What we’re talking about is abortion. What we’re talking about is access to abortion which we are seeing being stripped away in state after state after the Dobbs decision.” 

Kenyatta added that it was “deeply sad” that such a piece of legislation was necessary. 

“We can talk about male reproductive care, but the reality is the Supreme Court had nothing to say about men getting vasectomies,” Kenyatta said. “For folks who do want to access abortion care, I hope they know that it’s legal and it’s safe here in Pennsylvania.”

Rep. Paul Schemel (R-Franklin) questioned whether the bill would violate the Full Faith and Credit clause of the U.S. Constitution, where states abide by laws and court judgments from other states

“I can’t imagine a law more broad or poorly written that also subverts the full faith and credit which every state owes to another,” Schemel said.

State Rep. Chris Rabb (D-Philadelphia) said the bill was more than an intellectual exercise. He likened it to Pennsylvania protecting fugitives as part of the Underground Railroad. 

“We have an extraordinary history in this commonwealth, of protecting each other, protecting our neighbors,” Rabb said. “To me, that is at the core of what we’re doing here.”

The bill passed 14-11 along party lines, and now heads to the full House for consideration. 

Capital-Star Associate Editor Cassie Miller contributed.

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Kim Lyons
Kim Lyons

Kim Lyons is a veteran western Pennsylvania journalist who has covered people and trends in politics and business for local and national publications. Follow her on Threads @social_kimly