PHILADELPHIA — During a Friday panel discussion on how to fight the Trump administration, Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro instead took heat from protesters upset over the recent move by the state Legislature to take power away from Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner and give it to Shapiro’s office.
Shapiro was speaking alongside Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison and Delaware Attorney General on Day 2 of this year’s NetRoots Nation conference when an audience member seized the microphone jumped in to pointedly question the Montgomery County Democrat about the law.
A few activists followed, while others shouted from the audience and a few sought to push back against the disruption. Throughout the speeches, Shapiro took notes in anticipation of his response.
When Shapiro attempted to give a detailed, three-pronged answer, the protesters erupted in frustration shouting “Yes or No?”, demanding to know whether he would exercise the power Harrisburg is attempting to take away from Krasner.
Shapiro continued with his answer emphasizing that he “didn’t ask nor did I advocate for” the provision.
“I didn’t ask for this, I don’t want this law, if legislators want to appeal this law that’s fine with me,” he declared before trying to transfer to larger issues. “Let’s not lose sight of the fact that people are getting shot on the streets every day. We need the police, District Attorney and Attorney General working together on this.”
As the Capital-Star first reported Friday, Shapiro’s office backed the bill in its original form. But it has denied it supported the Philadelphia-specific measure. Shapiro pledged earlier this week to not unilaterally use the new power to go over Krasner’s head.
On Friday, protesters appeared to feel that Shapiro was filibustering, and at one point Ellison had to come to Shapiro’s aid, saying that “a fair question deserves a fair answer.”
When Shapiro reiterated it was “not an authority I sought, and not an authority I intend to use” the man holding the microphone pressed, “Is that a yes?”
“I would be happy if the legislature [repealed] that,” Shapiro countered.
As the Capital-Star reported Friday, Sen. Vincent Hughes, D-Philadelphia, has already proposed legislation to repeal the measure.
Combating Fake Abortion Clinics
Later in the afternoon, representatives from Equity Forward and Women’s Medical Fund hosted a panel concerning efforts by anti-choice organizations to deceive women seeking information on abortion by disguising themselves as medical facilities.
Commonly referred to as crisis pregnancy centers, the groups go as far as to have employees wear lab coats and hospital scrubs. These organizations also seek to locate themselves near, and adopt names similar to, actual abortion providers.
As a result, Equity Forward’s Mary Alice Carter advocates changing the moniker.
“We should no longer call them CPCs,” she urged. “Let’s just call them anti-abortion centers.”
This issue is particularly pressing in Pennsylvania because it was the first state to provide funding, which comes from welfare programs, to CPCs.
One of these organizations, Real Alternatives, received $35 million over the past five years from Pennsylvania taxpayers, money that’s being used to expand operations to other states like Michigan and Indiana.
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.
Gov. Tom Wolf can not veto these funds because of a “gentleman’s agreement” struck during the late Gov. Robert P. Casey Sr’s tenure that ties state funding of CPCs to aid given to Planned Parenthood.
In the Philadelphia metro area alone there are 18 of these centers, many of which are backed by Catholic diocese. Carter noted that the diocese should not be allowed this responsibility after the revelations uncovered by the same report mentioned by Shapiro earlier.
The forum also featured student Abigail McElory, who recounted how she convinced her school board to no longer allow CPCs to give what she said were inaccurate presentations in her high school.
(Editor’s Note: 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.)