With abortion amendment, Pa. GOP has given up on legislating | Wednesday Morning Coffee

On Tuesday, a state Senate panel got the ball rolling on legalized discrimination against half the commonwealth’s population

January 26, 2022 7:07 am

Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman, R-Centre, listens to Sen. Judy Ward, R-Blair, at a Sept. 15, 2021 Senate hearing to approve subpoenas for a legislative investigation of the 2020 election (Capital-Star photo).

Good Wednesday Morning, Fellow Seekers.

Someday, when future historians go to look for the exact moment that Pennsylvania Republicans finally gave up on legislating, or prevailing in the arena of ideas, they may well alight on Tuesday’s meeting of the Senate Health & Human Services Committee.

In a party-line vote, the GOP-controlled panel got the ball rolling on a proposed constitutional amendment declaring that there is no constitutional right to abortion or to public funding for the procedure.

After seven years of seeing the more radical components of their agenda — from gun rights and anti-environmental measures to reproductive rights — fall to Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf’s veto pen, Republicans have lately decided to do an end-run around the necessarily messy and slow legislative process. They’re instead governing via plebiscite, where a victory, while pricey, is pretty well fait accompli.

A bit of background: Constitutional amendments must be approved, in identical form, in back-to-back legislative sessions, and then by the voters at a statewide referendum. The governor plays no role in the process. And you’d be hard pressed to find an instance where proposed amendments have gone down to defeat at the polls.

Except this time, instead of looking to constrain the emergency powers of future chief executives or rig the redistricting process, to name just two of the more destructive constitutional changes the GOP has pursued or is now pursuing, Republicans are looking to strip bodily autonomy from perhaps more than half the commonwealth’s population (women and people who can get pregnant), and enshrine that discrimination in the state’s foundational document.

So much for the party of individual liberty and small government. In fact, it is difficult to envision anything less conservative than this kind of big government authoritarianism. But such is the GOP of Donald Trump.

It’s worth noting here that the language the Senate panel approved Tuesday is sponsored by Sen. Judy Ward, a Blair County Republican who has trafficked in the myth of the stolen election. And alarmingly, or perhaps depressingly, Ward was a nurse before entering public life, which would lead you to believe that she’d have a more ecumenical view of public health policy.

Abortion rights supporters rally at the Pa. State Capitol on Tuesday, 5/21/19, as part of a national day of action (Capital-Star photo by John L. Micek)

In testimony before the Senate panel on Tuesday, Ward said she’d been moved to act by a case currently before the state Supreme Court that would, if successful, lift Medicaid restrictions on taxpayer funding for elective abortions, the Capital-Star’s Marley Parish reports.

“I pray that we live in a country and a commonwealth that respects every human life, most especially those of the unborn,” Ward said.

With the very real prospect in 2023 that the GOP-controlled General Assembly, abetted by a future Republican governor, might act to impose Texas-style abortion restrictions in the Keystone State — courtesy of a post-Roe U.S. Supreme Court — forces on both sides of the abortion debate have been working furiously to outflank each other.

In a statement, Planned Parenthood Pennsylvania Advocates said the proposed constitutional amendment “distorts reality” and added that Pennsylvanians want abortion to be a “safe and legal experience,” Parish reported.

Wolf, a former Planned Parenthood volunteer, will leave office in January 2023 after serving the constitutional maximum of two, four-year terms, taking his veto pen with him into retirement. The urgency of the abortion debate has only added fuel to the fire of an important open seat election this fall.

That’s because Attorney General Josh Shapiro, whom Democrats have effectively anointed Wolf’s successor, also is ardently in favor of abortion rights. And, like Wolf, a putative Gov. Shapiro also would not be involved in the second round of the amendment debate in the 2023 legislative session.

Which is not to say that one of the roughly dozen or so Republicans now seeking the GOP’s gubernatorial nomination will not emerge victorious — these things do tend to happen in open seat races.

But it’s tough to see a need for a constitutional change if that happens, Republicans could simply ram through a bill and a future GOP governor could just sign it into law. Problem solved.

Pennsylvania Senate Chambers. Source: WikiMedia Commons

The whiff of election year politics tends to hang over everything that happens in this town.

So when the Senate panel’s chairperson, Sen. Michele Brooks, R-Mercer, defended the bill, arguing that it would give taxpayers a bigger say over a controversial issue, it was unclear for whom she was speaking. Polling consistently shows that clear majorities of Americans want abortion to be safe and legal in all or most cases. Support and opposition, as is the case with most issues, tends to be more emphatic when political tribalism is taken into account.

That, in turn, has the net effect of making the GOP’s games with the constitution both cynical and destructive.

There’s a reason that amending the constitution is arduous and time-consuming: Once far-reaching changes are embedded in it, they are just about impossible to remove. Which means it only should be undertaken in the interest of the majority of citizens, not a partisan and noisy minority.

And generally, changes are put into the constitution to expand the rights of the citizenry, not constrain them. Once upon a time, Republicans cherished those kinds of freedoms. But as we’ve seen over the last five years, and in the last year in particular, the modern GOP has become less and less interested in that.

And now, with this default reliance on the amendment process, they’ve apparently given up on legislating entirely.

As a certain Florida retiree might say, “Sad.”

But entirely unsurprising.

Pennsylvania State Capitol Building. (Capital-Star photo by Cassie Miller.)

Our Stuff.
A state House bill imposing maximum staffing ratios for nurses has wide bipartisan support, but is parked in committee with no prospect of a vote. Stephen Caruso explains the impasse.

The Republican-controlled Senate has approved a GOP-penned — and veto-bound bill — that would punish municipalities for enacting firearm ordinances stricter than Pennsylvania law, Marley Parish reports.

A Republican-authored amendment declaring that there is no constitutional right to abortion or public funding for the procedure cleared a key state Senate committee on Tuesday, as the GOP moved to head off a potential state Supreme Court ruling that could expand access, Marley Parish reports.

The Legislature’s LGBTQ+ Caucus is calling for swift action on stalled anti-discrimination legislation in the wake of one central Pennsylvania community’s vote to repeal those protections on the local level, Cassie Miller reports.

With threats and violence on the uptick, states are looking for ways to protect election officialsCapital-Star Democracy Reporter Kira Lerner reports.

The Biden administration announced Tuesday it will withdraw an emergency mandate that would have required employees at large businesses to get the COVID-19 vaccine or test regularly for the virus, Capital-Star Washington Reporter Jennifer Shutt writes.

Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner and his office are waiting for a better settlement offer to be negotiated in their lawsuit against opioid manufacturers, our partners at the Philadelphia Tribune report.

On our Commentary Paget this morning: Amazon tops a list of companies to ditch in support of immigrants’ human rights, an immigration attorney writes for our sibling site Source New Mexico. And Republicans need to get real about the facts and about governing, opinion regular Lloyd E. Sheaffer writes.

(Image via

State horse racing officials have released a plan aimed at reducing fatalities at the track, the Inquirer reports.

New COVID-19 cases have dropped by nearly half in Allegheny County, the Post-Gazette reports.

COVID-19 hospitalizations in Lancaster County also have droppedLancasterOnline reports.

Pennsylvania’s state prisons, however, have suspended in-person visits amid a surge in cases, the Bucks County Courier-Times reports (via the York Daily Record).

Officials in Chester County have limited contact-tracing amid high community spread of the virus, WHYY-FM reports.

The state has ‘fast-tracked’ $225 million in pandemic assistance to hospitals, the Associated Press reports (via WITF-FM).

PennLive has an interactive map of the places where animal research is conducted in the state.

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texasrallied in the Lehigh Valley on Tuesday on behalf of GOP Senate hopeful David McCormick, the Morning Call reports.

One person is dead, and 100 more were evacuated, in an apartment fire in Luzerne County, the Citizens’ Voice reports.

Spotlight PA explains what delayed redistricting maps could mean for the 2022 primary election (via GoErie). runs down the new powers that Republican lawmakers are seeking over elections.

Thirteen percent of congressional staffers, who live and work in one of the most expensive cities in the country, make less than a living wageRoll Call reports.

Here’s your #Pittsburgh Instagram of the Day:

What Goes On
The House and Senate both come in at 11 a.m. today.
9 a.m., 515 Irvis: House State Government Committee
9:30 a.m., Hearing Room 1, North Office Building: Senate Community Economic & Recreational Development Committee
10 a.m, 140 Main Capitol: Performance-Based Budget Board
10 a.m., 8E-B East Wing: Senate Transportation Committee
Call of the Chair, 140 Main Capitol: House Appropriations Committee

What Goes On (Nakedly Political Edition)
8:30 a.m.: Breakfast for Sen. Mike Regan
6:30 p.m.: Reception for Rep. Chris Quinn
Hit both events, give at the max, and you’re out $7,500 today.

Gov. Tom Wolf has no public schedule today.

You Say It’s Your Birthday Dept.
Best wishes go out to a couple old friends at PennLive. Congrats to Dustin Hockensmith and Salim Makhlouf, who both complete another trip around the sun today.

Heavy Rotation
Here’s one from Tears for Fears co-frontman Curt Smith for your Wednesday morning. From his 2013 solo record ‘Deceptively Heavy,” it’s ‘All is Love.’

Wednesday’s Gratuitous Hockey Link
Carolina’s Sebastian Aho scored in overtime, handing the ‘Canes a 4-3 win over Las Vegas on Tuesday.

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.