Pa. bill could reduce access to abortion

The Pennsylvania Senate is currently considering legislation that pro-choice advocates fear will limit women’s access to abortion. Senate bill 732, which will increase regulations on abortion clinics, could be voted on as early as this week or the next.

“It is a bill that really emerged out of a case in Philadelphia where an abortion provider was operating illegally; this person is an extreme exception,” said La’Tasha Mayes, founder and executive director of New Voice Pittsburgh: Women of Color for Reproductive Justice. “The bill came up last session, but they didn’t let it out of committee, so it was reintroduced this session.”

The bill would change regulations for abortion clinics, making them more similar to strict regulations for ambulatory surgical facilities. Since most abortion clinics are freestanding clinics, not connected to a hospital, changes to these regulations will increase costs to abortion providers.

“We had a rally on (Sept. 27) that was an overwhelming success. There hasn’t been a rally for that many people for one bill in a long time,” Mayes said. “We’re continuing to mobilize our support. We’re advocating for any woman to have the choice with what they do with their bodies.”

Proponents of the legislation say it is a result of the grand jury report released by the Philadelphia District Attorney’s office in January regarding the case of Kermit Gosnell, an abortion provider charged with murder, infanticide and other felonies. They say the Healthcare and Facilities Act will ensure similar scenarios do not occur.

However, NVP says strict regulations will put legitimate and safe abortion clinics out of business, forcing those seeking an abortion to turn to non-regulated unsafe means of abortion. They say similar enforcement of ambulatory surgical facilities regulations on abortion clinics in other states has caused abortion providers to shutdown.

“This bill requires a lot of regulations that are not required for a safe abortion. It will drive up the cost of abortion,” Mayes said. “In all of Western PA, the only place to get an abortion is Allegheny County. The majority are on the eastern side of the state. So the clinics on this side of the state, most of them will have to close down with this legislation. Women will continue to seek abortion whether it’s safe or legal.”

According to pro-life organizations, abortion is the leading cause of death for Black women. Although this statement could not be verified by the Center for Disease Control, the CDC has released a report showing the abortion rate has been on a steady decline from 1998-2007.

Mayes called unverifiable statements by pro-life organizations “extremist rhetoric,” and added that the rate of complications for abortions is 0.01 percent. She also said that 90 percent of abortions are performed in the first trimester of pregnancy.

“As long as I’ve been doing this work, you never see Black women leading any effort in this issue. A lot of these centers provide basic reproductive healthcare for women of color. The rate of abortion for Black women is higher than any group. There’s a national movement of Black women talking about abortion and that’s never happened,” Mayes said. “No matter what we do, we’re having too many children, we’re welfare queens and now we’re having too many abortions.”

On Oct. 13 the United States House of Representatives passed the Protect Life Act by a vote of 251 to 170.  If passed in the senate, the bill would prohibit federal funds from being used to cover any part of the costs of any health plan that includes coverage of abortion services.

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