Extreme Anti-Abortion Legislation SB3 Passed in State Assembly

Note: the following letter was submitted for publication to the DelCo Times, but never ran.  We have published it here so that the author’s voice is still heard.  Senate Bill 3 was vetoed by Governor Wolf.

To the Editor:

Do you believe that women possess any rights whatsoever over their healthcare decisions or bodies, or do you think that Pennsylvania’s legislators (80% of whom are men) should tell women what to do? This week, a majority of representatives in the State Assembly voted against women’s health and decision-making. They voted in favor of Senate Bill 3, which bans abortion at 20 weeks, without any exceptions for rape, incest, or severe fetal anomalies, and bans the safest procedure for second trimester abortions. Neither the Senate nor the Assembly held a single public hearing.

Governor Tom Wolf has vowed to veto S.B. 3 when it reaches his desk, and the Assembly did not manage to pass it by a veto-proof majority. That means that members of the Assembly who voted against it will face intense pressure to change their vote to a yes when the GOP leadership tries to pass it over the governor’s veto.

The Pennsylvania GOP did not write this terrible bill through any creative genius of its own but cut and pasted legislative templates from ALEC, a far-right think tank that farms out extreme legislation to state legislatures throughout the country. They are trying to sell it to voters as Pennsylvania’s solution for abortion regulation when it is simply pandering to right-wing donors who reward state lawmakers who toe their extremist line.

The GOP lies when it says that SB3 is medically sound. If the bill made any sense medically, why were no physicians called in for public hearings? No patient advocates? Probably because experts were not just excluded from deliberations about the bill, they have actively opposed it. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, Pennsylvania Medical Society, Physicians for Reproductive Health, and many other physicians have described SB3 as dangerous, unethical, and cruel.

Throughout this process our GOP representatives in Delaware County have offered us little reason to trust their pledges to protect women’s health and rights. State Senator Tom McGarrigle promised voters in 2014 that he would oppose legislation that restricted women’s access to abortion in cases of rape and incest. But once in office he voted for SB3 (after refusing to tell his constituents his position on the measure when they called his office and met in person with his staff). When McGarrigle voted yes on SB3, he showed his constituents in Delaware County that he cares more about loyalty to the state party—and to national GOP donors—than he does about keeping his word to his constituents.

Alex Charlton, who represents the 165th district in the PA State Assembly, used to be McGarrigle’s chief of staff and seems to have taken a page from his former boss’s playbook. Charlton said publicly that he did not think SB3’s offered “a smart approach.” But after the state GOP bosses removed two other wavering Republicans from the Health Committee earlier this year, Charlton apparently caved. He voted “yes” in committee to get SB3 to the floor for a vote. Apparently those same state bosses gave Charlton permission to be a “no” vote from the floor. This kind of maneuvering indicates that Charlton, like McGarrigle, will say one thing to his constituents in Delaware County, but that when in Harrisburg he does whatever the party leadership tells him to do.

The backroom dealing we are witnessing on the national scene, with Republicans throwing together major tax legislation without any hearings—just as they did with their ill-fated health care bills over the summer—is happening in Pennsylvania, too. And it is happening at the expense of women’s bodies, physicians’ ability to care for their patients, and families’ excruciating decisions about terminating pregnancies when tests—most often conducted at 20 weeks of pregnancy—indicate severe fetal anomalies.

The timing of the bill is pure political theater, intended to bolster the gubernatorial campaigns of the various Republicans hoping to unseat Wolf next year (“House abortion vote a prelude to next year’s gubernatorial race,” City and State, Dec. 5, 2017). McGarrigle and Charlton appear perfectly happy to be puppets in this show, but voters will remember that in 2018, too.

–Rebecca Davis, Swarthmore, PA