Pa. Democrats introduce legislation protecting out-of-state patients, nurses for abortion services

‘The U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling to overturn Roe v. Wade opens the door for individual states to ban or severely restrict abortion and leaves individuals in need of abortion care or other reproductive healthcare to travel to states like Pennsylvania, where those services remain legal,’ six House Democrats wrote

By: - October 5, 2022 12:49 pm

Hundreds of protesters rally in Harrisburg on Saturday, May 14, 2022, to promote abortion access (Capital-Star photo).

Now that states have authority over abortion with the U.S. Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade, Democrats in the Republican-controlled General Assembly are working to protect the procedure and its legality as out-of-state patients seek care in Pennsylvania.

Six House Democrats plan to introduce legislation outlining protections for nurses who provide reproductive health services — including contraception, emergency contraception, and abortion-related services — to out-of-state patients who obtain care in the Commonwealth.

The proposal would protect nurses from having their license or application for licensure penalized for providing reproductive health services to anyone living outside of Pennsylvania, where services would be outlawed.

A second bill would prohibit Pennsylvania health care providers, health plans, and health care clearinghouses from disclosing information about a patient’s reproductive health services without written consent or when specifically authorized or required by federal or state law.

Democratic Reps. Danielle Friel Otten, of Chester County, Emily Kinkead, of Allegheny County, Carol Hill-Evans, of York County, Christopher Rabb, of Philadelphia, and Dan Frankel, of Allegheny County, announced the bills on Tuesday in two memos seeking legislative support.

“The U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling to overturn Roe v. Wade opens the door for individual states to ban or severely restrict abortion and leaves individuals in need of abortion care or other reproductive healthcare to travel to states like Pennsylvania, where those services remain legal,” they wrote.

The announcement comes as Pennsylvania abortion providers report an influx of out-of-state patients since the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in favor of a Mississippi law directly challenging the landmark Roe v. Wade decision by making most abortions illegal after 15 weeks of pregnancy.

The lawmakers have appeared at a series of hearings and rallies in recent months to support keeping abortion legal in Pennsylvania, where anyone can receive the procedure up to 24 weeks of pregnancy — unless sought based on the sex of the fetus — under the Abortion Control Act. Later exceptions can be made for extraordinary circumstances, including when the health of the person giving birth is at risk.

“Accessing health care is not a crime,” Frankel said during a September rally on the Capitol steps, one day after thousands celebrated the overturning of Roe v. Wade at the Pennsylvania March for Life. “But if Republicans control the Legislature and governor’s office, it’s very clear that it will be.”

The legislative proposal also builds on an executive order issued by Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf, a former Planned Parenthood volunteer, protecting out-of-state individuals who seek the procedure in Pennsylvania from being arrested or detained at the request of another state with stricter abortion laws.

“Everyone, whether a resident of Pennsylvania or elsewhere, deserves access to health care,” Wolf said in July. “As long as I am governor, I will do everything in my power to protect that right.”

Wolf has vowed to veto any legislation restricting abortion access in Pennsylvania. Since taking office in 2015, he has blocked three bills — including proposals that would make abortion illegal at 20 weeks of pregnancy, ban abortion after a Down syndrome diagnosis, and outlaw abortions obtained through telemedicine — sent to his desk by the Republican-controlled General Assembly.

However, there is no guarantee the law will stay that way.

This November, Pennsylvania’s governor’s and legislative races could drastically change how, when, and why someone could receive an abortion — if at all — in the state. Some Republican lawmakers, with support from a handful of Democrats, have already proposed limiting the procedure and restricting funds to health care centers that perform abortions, despite Pennsylvanians’ support for keeping abortion legal under all or some circumstances.

Earlier this year, lawmakers advanced a proposed constitutional amendment — which a governor cannot veto — that, if approved by voters, would amend the state Constitution to declare there is “no constitutional right to taxpayer-funded abortion or other right relating to abortion.” The measure was part of a five-pronged amendment package, Senate Bill 106, which passed the General Assembly last month.

The amendment package, currently the subject of an ongoing lawsuit filed by Wolf, could reach voters as early as May 2023 if it passes again in the next legislative session.

Language for the abortion-related amendment came from a bill introduced by Sen. Judy Ward, R-Blair, a former nurse, last year, who — along with Republicans and Democrats who supported the proposal — said existing law won’t change immediately. They’ve also argued that a ballot question gives voters the ultimate say on abortion access in Pennsylvania.

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