Abortion rights allies rally in Harrisburg, across the country in reaction to restrictive laws

Kadida Kenner, a progressive activist, leads a crowd in chants in front of the Pennsylvania Capitol in support of abortion rights Tuesday, May 21, 2019. (Capital-Star photo by Stephen Caruso)

About 60 abortion right advocates rallied outside the Pennsylvania Capitol on Tuesday in response to a wave of state laws that some see as a part of a concerted attempt to ban the procedure nationwide.

The rallies, in all 50 states, come as officials in such states as Alabama, Missouri, Ohio, and Georgia move to severely restrict access to abortion. Those measures include so-called “heartbeat bills,” which ban abortion after six weeks, and bills that do not provide long-standing exceptions for rape or incest.

Bearing signs showing a pair of scissors asking “If you cut off my reproductive rights, can I cut off yours?” and uteruses raising middle fingers, attendees at Tuesday’s rally made note of all the other states’ actions, as well as the General Assembly’s own votes to restrict abortion access.

Maggie Groff, the interim executive director of Planned Parenthood’s political arm in Pennsylvania, called the laws “some of the most extreme bans we’ve seen since Roe v. Wade.”

In the past week, “we saw an unconstitutional abortion ban pass in the Pennsylvania House. All of these bans are a coordinated attack on reproductive rights in our country and on those who seek access to safe, legal abortion,” Groff said.

“Planned Parenthood will not back down from this fight,” she continued. “Our patients’ lives are too important.”

Groff was referring to the 117-76 vote by the Republican-controlled House to ban abortions based on an in-utero diagnosis of Down syndrome. Proponents have portrayed the bill as a piece of disability rights legislation. Opponents have argued that it is both unconstitutional and unenforceable.

The Republican-controlled state Senate, which now has its own version of the legislation, has not indicated whether it intends to vote on the House-approved bill. It faces a guaranteed veto from Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf.

The current legislative fight is part of a long line of proposals that have animated abortion rights allies like Tara Murtha, director of strategic communications for the Women’s Law Project.

“We’ve spent 45 years watching Pennsylvania lawmakers get increasingly ridiculous” on reproductive rights, Murtha told the crowd.

The proposals can be big, like the Down syndrome proposal or a 20-week abortion ban vetoed by Wolf in 2017.

Or they can be small, Murtha noted, pointing to an early draft of a bill on women’s health from arch-abortion rights opponent Rep. Kathy Rapp, R-Warren. Her original language would have punished doctors who discussed abortion with a woman who was informed of a terminal fetal abnormality within the first 24 hours after the diagnosis.

The bill has since been changed and passed the House earlier this month.

The ralliers, chanting “My body, My choice,” withstood a few jeers from passing cars before marching to the Capitol steps.

According to Gallup, 50 percent of Americans believe abortion should be legal only under certain circumstances. Another 29 percent believe it should be legal under any circumstance, the highest since the early ’90s.

Eighteen percent say abortion should be illegal under any circumstance, a percentage that has held relatively steady since Gallup’s polling of the question started in the ’70s.

A 2014 poll from Pew found that 51 percent of Pennsylvanians thought abortion should be legal in all or most cases, while 44 percent said illegal in all or most cases.

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