Rep. Dan Frankel, D-Allegheny, speaks at a joint session to honor the Tree of Life victims. (Courtesy Pa. House Democrats)
A Pittsburgh lawmaker who is a practicing Jew and represents the Tree of Life Synagogue was among dozens of state House Democrats who received an email, laced with Holocaust imagery, from a group angry about their vote on a controversial abortion ban bill, the Capital-Star has learned.
The email, initially sent Thursday afternoon by the Scranton chapter of Pennsylvanians for Human Life, was accompanied by graphic, black-and-white images of victims of the Nazi death camps and what appear to be the bodies of dead fetuses.
“This horrendous email and the images that were attached to it really marginalizes the experience of the Jewish people and other victims of the Holocaust,” Rep. Dan Frankel, D-Allegheny, said.
He was one of 76 lawmakers who voted against legislation, co-sponsored by state House Speaker Mike Turzai, that seeks to ban abortion based on a diagnosis of Down syndrome.
“To equate genocide to women and healthcare providers who are making difficult choices for themselves and their families is just a travesty,” said Frankel, who went to Hebrew school at Tree of Life as a young man. Eleven people worshipping at Saturday services were gunned down there last October.
Today, an organization called Pro-Life Scranton emailed me and other representatives a photo of dozens of murdered vicitms of the Holocaust in order to object to our votes against an abortion ban that won passage in the PA House this week.
— State Rep. Dan Frankel (@RepDanFrankel) May 16, 2019
The email read: “We are saddened to hear that you voted no on HB321; which states, exception to prohibit aborting the child solely due to a prenatal diagnosis that the unborn child has down (sic) syndrome. We are committed to protecting the life of the born and unborn child. This is a holocaust (sic) that we taxpayers should not be funding.”
The Capital-Star obtained a copy of both the email and the accompanying images. Because of their graphic nature, we are not publishing the images. The initial email was sent to all 76 “no” votes, a spokesman for House Democrats confirmed Friday.
On Friday afternoon, the group backpedaled, sending out an email apologizing for the initial missive.
The email, from the group’s president Helen Goshler, read: “It has come to our attention that the email and images we sent to you on Friday were found to be offensive. We sincerely apologize for any offense taken. Please understand that none was intended. We regret very much any pain this may have caused. You can be assured that this will never happen again.”
You can disagree with someone’s vote on an issue, but there is absolutely no excuse for this type of behavior. The hate and anti semitism needs to stop. I stand with my colleagues and condemn this behavior. https://t.co/tOTZgI7dby
— Jason Ortitay (@JasonOrtitay) May 17, 2019
State Rep. Mike Schlossberg, D-Lehigh, who like Frankel is Jewish, received a copy of the apology email on Friday. He called the original email “ugly.”
In a response he released to the Capital-Star, Schlossberg wrote, “You compare abortion to death and extermination of 12 million-plus people, including six million Jews, on the heels of multiple anti-Semitic attacks and murders, and then you say, ‘No offense intended?’ What kind of faith do you believe in? Certainly none that I am familiar with.”
Frankel dismissed the apology as “pathetic.”
Nancy K. Baron-Baer, the regional director for the Anti-Defamation League, said the initial email was “inaccurate, inappropriate and offensive.”
“Using those kind of analogies, especially, with the intimation that abortion is 10 times worse than the worst genocide of the 20th century, truly belittles the victims of the Nazi regime,” she continued. “To do that for political purposes, regardless of what the policy may be, is just not defensible.”
On Tuesday, the majority-Republican House spent two hours in often emotional debate on the ban bill, which was also sponsored by Rep. Kate Klunk, R-York.
Backers billed the legislation as an effort to protect the rights of people with disabilities, though the bill did not attract public support from disability rights groups. Democrats said Republicans could better help by spending money on state programs that serve disabled Pennsylvanians and their families.
The ban bill faces an uncertain future in the Republican-controlled Senate. Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat, has said he will veto the legislation if it reaches his desk.
The Pennsylvania bill comes amid a broader attack on abortion rights and abortion access nationwide, as well as a time of elevated hate-crime activity, particularly acts of anti-Semitism.
Speaking to an group that opposes abortion access last month, Turzai compared abortion-rights supporters to “the Nazi regime.” A spokeswoman claimed his remarks had been taken out of context.
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