In video, Pa. House Speaker Mike Turzai appears to compare Down syndrome abortion ban foes to ‘the Nazi regime’ | Tuesday Morning Coffee

State House Speaker Mike Turzai, R-Allegheny, speaks during a news conference on a bill that would ban abortions based on a diagnosis of Down syndrome (Capital-Star photo by John L. Micek)

(*The headline for this story has been updated. It has also been updated to include new information about House Speaker Mike Turzai promising to increase funding for Real Alternatives)

Good Tuesday Morning, Fellow Seekers.
Another week, another fire.

Aides to House Speaker Mike Turzai on Monday were trying explain away remarks the Allegheny County Republican made to an anti-abortion group in which he seemingly compared foes of a controversial proposal to ban abortions based on a diagnosis of Down Syndrome to “the Nazi regime.”

“None of us is perfect. What’s perfect? What is perfect? What is allowable as a human being?,” Turzai says in a 60-second video shared on Twitter by progressive activist Sean Kitchen.

“Oh, please tell us, far left, since you seem to have a judgment on this,” Turzai, who is vocally opposed to abortion rights, continued, a scowl crossing his face. “Since you seem to hold any of us who regard the unborn child with dignity and protection. It’s sort of, like, we’re just beneath them, right? Like, what do you know? Move into the 21st Century. Isn’t that what they’re telling us? With their sense of eugenics – like the Nazi regime, right? Is that really where it is? Well here’s the thing, every single human being is beautiful. Everybody is capable and will contribute to this world. And everyone wants to feel the love of their family and friends and another human being.”

A full-length, 17-minute video of Turzai’s remarks, posted by the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference, places Turzai’s opposition to abortion rights in a broader, historical context, making mention of former Gov. Robert P. Casey Sr. It also makes it clear that the House Speaker is talking about the proposed Down syndrome abortion ban.

Turzai’s spokeswoman, Christine Goldbeck, accused Kitchen of taking the Republican leader’s remarks “out of context.”

“Watch the whole video,” she said.

Proponents of the Down syndrome ban say they don’t want to see an American repeat of Iceland, where the birth defect has been nearly eliminated through a combination of prenatal screening and abortion. Backers of the ban have said the practice is tantamount to eugenics, and could lead to parents aborting babies based on hair color, a diagnosis of autism or some other trait they deem unattractive.

Existing state law already bans abortion on the basis of gender. At a press conference last month, backers conceded that physicians who carry out the procedure could face criminal charges. Turzai, and Rep. Kate Klunk, R-York, are sponsoring the House version of the bill. Sen. Scott Martin, of Lancaster County, is sponsoring the Senate version of the bill.

In a statement, Rep. Dan Frankel, a Pittsburgh Democrat whose district includes the city’s Squirrel Hill neighborhood, and the Tree of Life Synagogue, criticized Turzai’s remarks, saying he “[feels] strongly that we should keep casual mentions of the ‘Nazi Regime’ out of our good-faith policy debates.”

“At a time when we are seeing a resurgence in actual Nazi ideology, rooted in the same white supremacy that led to the extermination of 6 million Jews, I feel strongly that we should keep casual mentions of the ‘Nazi Regime’ out of our good-faith policy debates,” Frankel, who is Jewish, said.

Frankel said he and Turzai “agree that every person deserves dignity and respect. That’s why we desperately need increased resources for families who do the important work of taking care of children with disabilities.”

Turzai’s remarks came during a keynote speech last week, in Grantville, Dauphin County, that he delivered to the  anti-abortion group Real Alternatives, which has received millions of dollars in taxpayer money over the last 20 years to administer Pennsylvania’s crisis pregnancy program.

The group is being sued in Commonwealth Court for its financial records, which the pro-abortion rights group, Equity Forward, believes will show that Real Alternatives is improperly using Pennsylvania taxpayer money to expand its operations into other states.

*In his remarks, Turzai also vowed to increase state support for Real Alternatives: “I am so honored to be an advocate for this program myself, and to make sure that its continued existence, success, robustness, remains present in the commonwealth of Pennsylvania… As majority leader, as speaker of the house, I continue to advocate, along with my colleagues, not just for stable funding, but for increased funding, and less bureaucratic entanglements, thanks to your leadership right here. And we’re going to make sure that in this budget cycle, we focus on both. Less entanglement and more money… We have to make sure that that dollar amount [to Real Alternatives] increases in that upcoming budget.”

As a matter of full disclosure, Equity Forward is a project of the Hopewell Fund, a Washington D.C.-based progressive 501(c)(3), as is The North Carolina-based, The Newsroom, which supports The Capital-Star. There is no coordination or relationship between The Capital-Star and Equity Forward.

The flare-up over Turzai’s remarks comes about a week after the House’s presiding officer had to paper over the controversy prompted by a conservative Christian lawmaker who offered an explicitly religious and political prayer on the day the chamber swore-in its first Muslim woman. That lawmaker, Democratic Rep. Movita Johnson-Harrell, said the invocation was an instance of blatant “Islamophobia.”

Our Stuff:
Tuesday is Equal Pay Day in Pennsylvania – and across the nation. Elizabeth Hardison takes stock of all the ways that Pa. lawmakers are trying to address the gender pay gap.
And in this week’s edition of The Numbers Racket, we take a look at the data behind Pa’s gender pay gap, and how it stacks up to the rest of the country, and how the United States compares to the rest of the world.
Voters in western Pennsylvania’s 37th Senate District head to the polls this Tuesday morning to cast their ballot in a closely watched special election for state Senate. Stephen Caruso has your essential primer on the race that could further erode the GOP edge in the 50-member chamber.

On the Opinion side of the house, two New York University professors look at how state utility regulators are making power companies help pick up the tab for climate change.

Elsewhere:
Though he’s facing some #MeToo issues, Philly Dems are lining up behind Sheriff Jewell WilliamsThe Inquirer reports.
PennLive looks at some potential solutions for solving the state’s mass-transit woes. They include fees on Uber and hybrid vehicles.
The Morning Call explains what NYC’s new congestion tax will mean to Lehigh Valley commuters.

What Happens on Twitter:

A new study is pushing the state to embrace ‘trauma-informed’ education, WHYY-FMreports.
Allegheny County Controller Chelsa Wagner faces an April 11 hearing in Detroit after her encounter with the local gendarmerie there, The Post-Gazette reports.
A former aide to ex-Reading Mayor Vaughan Spencer has gotten probation in a federal bribery case, The Associated Press reports (via WITF-FM).
PoliticsPA’s 
readers have made their pick in today’s special election in the 37th Senate District.
An aide to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi tried to undercut Medicare for All, Politicoreports.

WolfWatch.
Gov. Tom Wolf does an 8:07 a.m. interview on KDKA-AM in Pittsburgh this morning.

What Goes On.
11:30 a.m.: Education Secretary Pedro Rivera heads to York to help some school kids run a simulated town.
1 p.m.: This will surprise you, but Auditor General Eugene DePasquale is holding a press conference. Again.
3 pm.: Reps. Jordan Harris and Sheryl DeLozier, joined by rapper Meek Mill and CNNhost Van Jones, talk criminal justice reform.

Heavy Rotation.
Here’s an old fave from English soul man Paul Carrack. From his 1982 LP “Suburban Voodoo,” here’s “Always Better With You.”

Tuesday’s Gratuitous Hockey Link.
New Jersey 
edged the Rangers 4-2 on Monday night in a game that got a bit chippy.

And now you’re up to date.

An award-winning political journalist with more than 25 years' experience in the news business, John L. Micek is The Pennsylvania Capital-Star's Editor-in-Chief. Before joining The Capital-Star, Micek spent six years as Opinion Editor at PennLive/The Patriot-News in Harrisburg, Pa., where he helped shape and lead a multiple-award-winning Opinion section for one of Pennsylvania's most-visited news websites. Prior to that, he spent 13 years covering Pennsylvania government and politics for The Morning Call of Allentown, Pa. His career has also included stints covering Congress, Chicago City Hall and more municipal meetings than he could ever count, Micek contributes regular analysis and commentary to a host of broadcast outlets, including CTV-News in Canada and talkRadio in London, U.K., as well as "Face the State" on CBS-21 in Harrisburg, Pa.; "Pennsylvania Newsmakers" on WGAL-8 in Lancaster, Pa., and the Pennsylvania Cable Network. His weekly column on American politics is syndicated nationwide to more than 800 newspapers by Cagle Syndicate.

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