How a terrible abortion bill has Pa. making national headlines for all the wrong reasons – again | Monday Morning Coffee

December 2, 2019 7:15 am

Abortion rights supporters rally at the Pa. State Capitol on Tuesday, May 21, 2019 as part of a national day of action (Capital-Star photo).

Good Monday Morning, Fellow Seekers.

state House-approved bill mandating the burial or cremation of any product of conception — from the earliest miscarriage to an abortion — has Pennsylvania making headlines again for all the wrong reasons.

The legislation, sponsored by Rep. Frank Ryan, R-Lebanon, which cleared the House on a bipartisan 123-76 vote on Nov. 18, is the subject of a new Rolling Stone piece calling attention to the increasingly aggressive ways that abortion opponents are attempting to curtail access to the procedure.

Current state law requires burial or cremation for fetuses after 16 weeks’ gestation. Ryan’s bill would expand the definition to require a burial or cremation for the “expulsion or extraction from its mother of a product of conception, which shows no evidence of life after the expulsion or extraction,” including a fertilized egg that’s not yet a fetus, as Rolling Stone notes, or frozen, fertilized eggs from an IVF procedure.

The onus to dispose of the remains would be on the healthcare provider — unless the mother indicates that she will take care of it herself. The law provides for criminal penalties and fines for violators. Abortion rights activists have said such a requirement would drive up the cost of an abortion. Psychologists, meanwhile, have said the bill will inflict needless trauma at an already upsetting time.

Gov. Tom Wolf (Commonwealth Media Services photo)

Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf, a former Planned Parenthood volunteer, has said that he’ll veto any abortion-related legislation that reaches his desk. Wolf was as good as his word on Nov. 21, running his veto pen across a bill that bans abortion on the basis of a Down syndrome diagnosis.

With the Senate only scheduled to be in session for a single day this month — Dec. 18 — it seems unlikely that Ryan’s bill will see a vote before year’s end. And under past tradition, the Republican-controlled chamber has typically given culture warriors a single bite at the abortion apple during any two-year session. Having already gone through the exercise of a gubernatorial veto once, it’s possible GOP leaders may decide to give it a pass.

But those aren’t the only measures making the rounds this session.

A bill now before the state House expanding telemedicine services, mostly to help rural Pennsylvanians, was amended in committee to include language that would restrict abortion services.

Conservatives in the House and Senate are also teeing up a so-called ‘heartbeat ban,’ that would prohibit abortion as soon as a doctor can detect a fetal heartbeat.

That can happen at as early as six weeks, which is before most people even know they’re pregnant, which effectively amounts to a total ban.

If there’s an upside, it’s that Wolf veto — and the fact that similar measures have been halted on constitutional grounds in other states.  But the bills’ sponsors have also made it clear that they’re willing to wait out the term-limited governor in the hopes of getting a more sympathetic ear in the executive branch come 2022.

Ashley Lenker White, who recently left her job as executive director of Planned Parenthood Pennsylvania Advocates for a new position at the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania, said earlier this month that “lawmakers should be ashamed for pushing an extreme agenda that ignores the real health care needs of Pennsylvanians in favor of intrusive — and, in some cases, unconstitutional — measures for political gain.”

President Donald Trump (Capital-Star file)

As offensively unconstitutional, unworkable and unenforceable as the Pennsylvania bills are, they don’t hold a candle to the circus unfolding in Ohio, where anti-choice lawmakers are throwing all manner of legislative nonsense at the wall hoping for some of it to stick.

One measure now before the Buckeye State’s General Assembly would require physicians to attempt to “reimplant an ectopic pregnancy into a woman’s uterus,” which is a procedure that “doesn’t exist because it’s not medically possible,” Rolling Stone reports. The bill also adds “abortion murder,” and “aggravated abortion murder,” to Ohio’s crimes code to punish doctors who perform abortions.

New York Times story published Sunday further drives home the reality of this high-stakes debate, concluding that progressives were ill-prepared for President Donald Trump‘s election in 2016; on defense because of state-by-state efforts to ban abortion, and divided over how to fight back.

The U.S. Supreme Court in Washington D.C. (Flickr Commons)

Here’s the relevant part of the story — it’s ample reminder of why the abortion rights movement needs to stay focused heading into 2020:

” … interviews with more than 50 reproductive rights leaders, clinic directors, political strategists and activists over the past three months reveal a fragmented movement facing longstanding divisions — cultural, financial and political. Many said that abortion rights advocates and leading reproductive rights groups had made several crucial miscalculations that have put them on the defensive.

“It’s really, really complicated and somewhat controversial where the pro-choice movement lost,” said Johanna Schoen, a professor at Rutgers University who has studied the history of abortion.

National leaders became overly reliant on the protections granted by a Democratic presidency under Mr. Obama and a relatively balanced Supreme Court, critics say, leading to overconfidence that their goals were not seriously threatened. Their expectation that Mr. Trump would lose led them to forgo battles they now wish they had fought harder, like Judge Merrick B. Garland’s failed nomination to the bench.

Already Ground Zero in 2020, the battle over abortion access raises the stakes even further in Pennsylvania, which Democrats have to carry to win back the White House.

Our Stuff.
Washington Bureau Chief Robin Bravender 
previews an important gun rights case coming before the U.S. Supreme Court this week, and the role that Pennsylvania lawmakers will play in it.

Elizabeth Hardison has what you need to know about a bill, signed into law by Gov. Tom Wolf, that further tightens opioid prescribing practices.

Stephen Caruso takes a look at a House GOP plan to find more money for infrastructure — without raising state taxes.

From our partners at the Philadelphia Tribune: This Philly family has made history by joining the city’s Fire Department.

On our Commentary Page, Opinion regular Dick Polman gives some seasonal thanks for a well thought-out federal court decision affecting the Trump administration.

A Colt handgun (Flickr Creative Commons photo)

The Inquirer 
wonders what might happen if Philadelphia’s gun violence epidemic were treated like any other public health challenge — y’know, sanely, with science and evidence.
The Post-Gazette profiles Jessica Benhamthe progressive activist who’s challenging long-serving state Rep. Harry Readshaw, D-Allegheny.
The Pennsylvania Game Commission is investigating an incident, caught on video, of two boys from Jefferson County allegedly torturing a white-tailed deer with a knife after it was shot on Saturday, but not immediately killed, PennLive reports.
The Morning Call updates on the state of the opioid crisis in the Lehigh Valley: There are fewer overdose deaths, but there has been an increase in alcohol and meth abuse.
Former Pa. U.S. Rep. Joe Sestak has dropped his Democratic 2020 White House bid.

Here’s your #Harrisburg Instagram of the Day.

The state’s biggest charter school operator wants to take over all kindergarten through eighth grade education in the long-troubled Chester Upland school system, WHYY-FM reports.
The PA Post looks at the immigrant truckers who are finding a taste of home along Pennsylvania’s highways.
Luzerne County’s Democratic chairman, John Pekarovsky, who was pulling double-duty for the campaign of now-independent Sen. John Yudichakhas stepped downPoliticsPA reports. The party’s vice chairwoman Kathy Bozinski, will replace him. looks at the split among southern states over the EPA’s coal ash rule rollback.
Politico looks at the 2020 path to victory for ex-NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

Gov. Tom Wolf 
heads to Montgomery County today for a 10 a.m. visit to the Eastern Center for Arts and Technology in Willow Grove, Pa.

You Say It’s Your Birthday Dept.
Belated best wishes go out this morning to April Linton Hutcheson at the Pa. Dept. of Health, who celebrated on Sunday.  

Heavy Rotation.
Here’s some new music from the wonderful Say Lou Lou. It’s ‘The Look of Love.’

Monday’s Gratuitous Hockey Link.
The Bruins’ David Pastrnak 
scored his 25th goal of the season as the Bruins rallied to beat Montreal on Sunday. The B’s 3-1 win was their seventh straight. The Habs are now winless in their last eight starts.

And now you’re up to date.

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John L. Micek

A three-decade veteran of the news business, John L. Micek is the Pennsylvania Capital-Star's former Editor-in-Chief.