[EDITOR'S NOTE: Proposed abortion regulations have now passed the full Senate as well. See bottom of post for update.]
Women's health advocates are bracing themselves for what will likely be the passage of a controversial abortion measure that they fear will make the procedure inaccessible to women.
As City Paper has previously reported, Senate Bill 732 would reclassify abortion facilities as "ambulatory surgical facilities," and subject providers to the same fire, personnel and equipment standards. The state House of Representatives passed the bill yesterday, 151-44. Advocates expect the Senate to take it up today, as it was advanced out of a committee this morning. While the Senate convened this morning, they are currently on recess before the afternoon session -- we'll post updates as they become available.
Advocates, meanwhile, are pressing legislators to vote against it. The ACLU of Pennsylvania yesterday called the House approval of the measure a continuation of its "anti-woman agenda."
"Burdensome regulations come right out of the playbook of those who think women should have no access to abortion care," said Andy Hoover, the ACLU's legislative director in a statement."It's a way to undercut women's access to abortion."
New Voices Pittsburgh: Women of Color for Reproductive Justice, is urging the public contact their Senators via telephone, Facebook and Twitter to oppose the bill. And in a statement sent out today, Sari Stevens, executive director of Planned Parenthood Pennsylvania Advocates, says the passage of the bill "will either shut down abortion providers or cause the cost of an abortion to skyrocket, further decreasing Pennsylvanian's women access to abortion, including in the cases of rape and incest."
Officials at Planned Parenthood have previously estimated that proposed changes could increase the cost of an abortion by $1,000.
This bill, and a similar measure in the House from Rep. Matt Baker (R-Tioga), were proposed after authorities shut down a Philadelphia abortion clinic operated by Dr. Kermit Gosnell, who was accused of performing illegal, late-term abortions. Authorities called Gosnell's clinic a "house of horrors," and he was charged with killing seven live infants, one woman and operating in deplorable conditions.
In a video posted on his website, Baker says the bill "basically holds abortion clinics -- for the first time in decades -- to the same medical standards, safety provisions of ambulatory surgical facilities." The bill, he says, provides a "higher level of standards of care for patient safety to help protect women and children that are being treated in abortion clinic.
But women's health advocates say this bill isn't about protecting women and their rights.
"Gosnell was a rogue criminal who deserves to be punished," Stevens says. But, she adds, "Proponents of SB 732 have exploited his victims to pass their anti-choice agenda and should be ashamed. We see now how low our elected officials are willing to go to push their anti-woman agenda."
UPDATE: The full Senate passed Senate Bill 732 this afternoon, by a vote of 32-18. The bill now goes to Gov. Tom Corbett.
Prior to the vote, only one lawmaker spoke in favor of the bill: Sen. Jane Orie (R-McCandless), chair of the Republican Pro-Life caucus.
Orie, like many who support the bill, invoked the tragedy at Dr. Kermit Gosnell’s clinic in Philadelphia where he is accused of murdering seven life infants and one woman, and operating in horrible conditions. "It's one death too many," she said.
"This issue came to us," she said. "We have a duty and obligation to ensure that the poorest of poor or women of means -- that all of you have the same safety and welfare in any medical procedure you get, especially one of this nature."
But lawmakers opposed to the bill called that argument disingenuous. Sen. Jim Ferlo (D-Highland Park), called the measure "False legislation.
"If we close clinics that right now are safe ... we're going to force individuals into unsafe opportunities, and God forbid there should ever be a situation like Gosnell," he said on the floor. "There's an inherent contradiction by limiting and closing safe, clean places with no incidents.”"
Ferlo and other Democrats who spoke in opposition of the bill echoed sentiments that the bill is more about choosing sides on the abortion battle then it is about helping women. Ferlo and other female democrats also said it smacked of sexism.
"If men got pregnant, abortions would be free, they would be legal, they would be comprehensive and available on demand."
An incensed Sen. Lisa Boscola, (D-Lehigh Valley), agreed that if the bill had anything to do with men's health, it wouldn’t have advanced in the chamber. "I think it's arrogant to be done here this way. It's a clear rush to judgment, pandering to special interests."
She urged woman to run for office and pledged to help them.
"This is what happens when you don't engage and don't run for office," she sad.