Advocates score a partial win in Pa’s other important abortion fight | Wednesday Morning Coffee

May 22, 2019 7:21 am

Kadida Kenner, a progressive activist, leads a crowd in chants in front of the Pennsylvania Capitol in support of abortion rights Tuesday, May 21, 2019. (Capital-Star photo)

Good Wednesday Morning, Fellow Seekers.

These are undoubtedly serious times for supporters of abortion rights.

So far, at least three states have passed legislation banning abortion after the sixth week of pregnancy, according to The Cut. Alabama Republican Gov. Kay Ivey recently signed a near total ban on abortion that would punish violators with a felony and take a torch to traditional exceptions for rape and incest. Missouri Gov. Mike Parson is expected to soon sign an eight-week banThe Cut also reported.

Pennsylvania is waging its own fight over House and Senate proposals banning abortion based on an in-utero diagnosis of Down syndrome. Opponents say the bills are both unconstitutional and unenforceable. Bubbling under is one of those horrific six-week ban bills.

Silver lining: Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf, a former Planned Parenthood volunteer, has vowed to veto the bills. Even so, it’s easy to be discouraged to by the current state of affairs.

So here’s some good news: Late last week, a state court ruled that the organization that has received tens of millions of dollars in taxpayer money to run Pennsylvania’s “crisis pregnancy” program did a lousy job of justifying why some of that money should be shielded from public view.

Last Friday’s decision by the Commonwealth Court also requires the state Office of Open Records to take a mulligan on its decision rejecting the records request filed by Equity Forward, a New York-based reproductive rights group.

Equity Forward has claimed that the anti-abortion Real Alternatives uses a portion of the taxpayer money it receives to improperly expand its operations into other states.

If Real Alternatives’ name sounds familiar, that might be because they held the April banquet where House Speaker Mike Turzai compared opponents of a proposed Down syndrome abortion ban to “the Nazi regime.”

As the Philadelphia Inquirer reports, an audit by the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services “flagged a practice in which Real Alternatives withheld 3 percent of all payments to service providers under a side deal they called a ‘program development and advancement agreement.’ Auditors ultimately estimated [Real Alternatives] had collected more than $800,000 over the last five years through this deal.”

Real Alternatives has faced similar scrutiny in Michigan, where the organization has received about $2.6 million in public funds to administer anti-abortion programs, according to published reports. The state’s new Democratic governor, Gretchen Whitmer, has been pressured to cut off that funding stream.

In Commonwealth Court, lawyers for Real Alternatives claimed they didn’t have to show Equity Forward the money because the side deals it entered into with contractors weren’t part of the grant agreement it has with the state Department of Human Services.

In short, the court didn’t buy it, ruling that Real Alternatives failed to meet the burden of proof to shield its documents from public view and that the Open Records office had erred by accepting that argument.

Speaking to the Capital-Star on Tuesday, Equity Forward’s lawyer, Terry Mutchler, called the ruling a win for government transparency.

“An entity that receives millions of dollars in taxpayer money didn’t do a good enough job of proving the records related to its work were exempt,” from the state’s open records law. For you trivia buffs, Mutchler was the first executive director of the Office of Open Records when it was created back in 2008.

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

Our Stuff:
First up, it’s our team coverage of Tuesday’s special elections:
Stephen Caruso has results from Tuesday’s special election in Butler County’s 11th House District. Sarah Anne Hughes has the tallies from the special election for the 12th Congressional District. And Elizabeth Hardison runs down the results in a pair of special state Senate elections in Adams and Indiana counties. Hardison also hit a briefing on election security held by the Department of State.

Next up, it’s our package of coverage of the National Day of Action for by reproductive rights advocates:
Stephen Caruso has the news desk’s take on a rally on the state Capitol steps that saw Pa. advocates join allies nationwide on Tuesday to protest restrictive abortion bans approved across the country.
We bring you the tale of a woman who remembers an America where abortion was illegal – and who has no interest in returning to those days. And Elizabeth Hardison has the lowdown on the Senate’s version of the Down syndrome abortion ban.

From Washington, U.S. Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon is the second Democratic member of the state’s Congressional delegation to call for an impeachment inquiry of President Donald Trump.

On our Commentary Page, a Stanford University scholar argues that while women still face penalties for stepping up to report sexual harassment, #MeToo is slowly making it better. And state Rep. Pat Harkins, D-Erie, says it’s past time for Pa. to give its public employees the same workplace protections as private-sector employees (which seems like it should already be a thing – but, amazingly and sadly, it’s not).

Philly’s primary election is a reminder of both the power and the limitations of the incumbency, The Inquirer reports. Mayor Jim Kenney, by the way, retained the Democratic nomination, beating back state Sen. Tony Williams and other challengers.
The Post-Gazette has the details on an upset win for Pittsburgh City Council.
Allentown Mayor Ray O’Connell cruised to victory in the Democratic primary, The Morning Call reports.
Here’s how things went in Erie on Tuesday, during a low turnout election (via

Here’s your #WHOSAGOODBOYYY Instagram of the Day:

PennLive has the results of a critical school board election in Harrisburg.
A Republican county commissioner race in York County is too close to callThe York Daily Record reports.
Wilkes-Barre’s Democratic mayor failed to fend off a primary challenge on TuesdayThe Citizens-Voice reports.
Lackawanna County voters gave some county commissioners the boot on Tuesday, The Times-Tribune reports.
LancasterOnline has results from key races across Lancaster County.

What Goes On.
The House has a non-voting session today. These aren’t the ‘droids you’re looking for. Move along.

Gov. Tom Wolf 
and LG John Fetterman will update on the state of the opioid epidemic. They’ll also get trained in how to use Narcan, the anti-overdose drug. This all goes down a 2 p.m. event in the Governor’s Reception Room.

What Goes On (Nakedly Political Edition).
The Senate Republican Campaign Committee holds its 20th annual Pat Browne Golf Classic (imagine that fairway banter????) at 8 a.m. at Saucon Valley Country Club in Bethlehem, Pa. Admission runs from a mere $500 to $10,000 (those donors, we’d suppose, get the privilege of having Browne talk sweet revenue projections at them).

You Say It’s Your Birthday Dept.
Best wishes go out this morning to our former Morning Call colleague, Jacob Michaels, who celebrates today. Congrats and enjoy the day, sir.

Heavy Rotation.
Yes, it’s Wednesday, but here’s some ‘Monday Morning Rock,’ from Marshall Crenshaw.

Wednesday’s Gratuitous Baseball Link.
In news that has us looking forward to the start of hockey season again, Baltimore got clobbered, 11-4, by New York 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.