Pro-abortion rights protesters gather outside the district office of state House Speaker Bryan Cutler, R-Lancaster, on Thursday, 7/14/22 (Capital-Star photo by Jaxon White).
(*This story was updated at 11:17 a.m. on Friday, 7/15/22 to clarify the timeline on the state Senate’s vote on a proposed constitutional amendment)
QUARRYVILLE, Pa. – Abortion rights activists gathered in the parking lot outside of the office of one of the top Republicans in the state Legislature on Thursday, where they intended to speak with the lawmaker in person about about GOP-backed efforts to restrict access to abortion.
A handful of protesters mounted the action outside of Pennsylvania House Speaker Bryan Cutler’s office in Lancaster County. A shipping truck wrapped in LED boards broadcast messages supporting reproductive rights and a QR code for those looking to get involved with the group.
The 30-minute protest, sponsored by various branches of Planned Parenthood, came in response to a proposed constitutional amendment — approved by the Republican-controlled House and Senate — that would declare there’s no right to abortion in the state’s foundational document, or a right to public funding for the procedure.
“This bill will enshrine discrimination into our Constitution, and it will disproportionately affect those who already have issues accessing health care,” Lindsey Maulin, vice president of advocacy and public policy at Planned Parenthood Southeastern Pennsylvania, said.
Maulin said that it was suspicious that the Republican Caucus advanced the amendment after 11 p.m., when she believed most people were asleep.
“It’s just another strategy to silence voters and to not incorporate their thoughts and their ideas into the process,” she said.
Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf cannot veto a constitutional amendment, which must pass through the Legislature in identical form in consecutive legislative sessions, and be publicly advertised, before it is placed on a ballot for voters to decide. It could be on the ballot as early as the 2023 primary.
Theresa Gassert, of Planned Parenthood Keystone, helped Maulin in organizing the event.
“It’s unfair that the folks that we’ve elected into office made this decision, Senate Bill 106, in the middle of the night without any of us knowing about it,” Gassert said. She remembers being “shocked” when she found out that next morning *that the bill had been *amended in committee and sent to the full Senate for a vote.
When the group of protesters entered Cutler’s office, all members of the media were asked to turn off their recording devices by a staff member.
The staffer said that Cutler was too busy in meetings outside of the office to speak with the protesters and that next week he would be on a family vacation.
The protesters accused Cutler of silencing debate in the Legislature to advance the bill quicker. Then a brief debate ensued over whether any of the protesters were Cutler’s constituents. Only one protester identified themselves as one.
The staff member allowed the protesters to stay and write personal messages to the House GOP leader. They were told that they would have to leave if a constituent came into the office so that staff could deal with them in private.
Cindy Faulkner, 62, of Kennett Square, Chester County, attended the protest because she was upset as soon as she heard about the amendment passing.
“It seems to have been passed late at night like cowards would pass a bill,” Faulkner said. “I have three children, I am an active member of a church, I got to choose whether to have my three children or not, and I believe every other woman has the right to choose whether to have children or not.“
Katie Bowers, a registered nurse from York County, said that she wished she could have spoken to Cutler directly.
“I would ask him why he feels, sitting behind an office and not being out in the community and speaking with victims, as though he can make an informed decision that affects millions of families,” Bowers said.
In a statement, Cutler’s spokesperson, Mike Straub, told the Capital-Star that the legislation “addresses issues members on both sides of the aisle hear about from constituents on a regular basis.”
“They are significant and, in some cases, divisive topics,” Straub added. “The people of the Commonwealth deserve to have their voices heard directly on these issues through the Constitutional amendment process, and the legislature has taken the first step to making that possible.”
Straub also addressed some of the protesters’ allegations that Cutler cut debate over the amendment short and allowed for the late night vote to avoid hearing complaints from constituents.
He said that Cutler did not silence the debate on the floor and that all members who asked to speak on the bill were given the opportunity. Straub also said that it is “not uncommon” for debates and votes to go late into the night during budget season, even later than 11 p.m.
State budget talks ran a week later than the June 30 deadline, with the amendment debate taking place in the middle of those discussions.
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