If there's one message our Republican-dominated state government has sent this year, it's this: All life is precious ... as long as someone else is paying the bill.
Days before Christmas, Gov. Tom Corbett quietly signed a measure placing burdensome new rules on clinics that perform abortions. Under the new law, such clinics are to be treated as "ambulatory surgical facilities" -- a designation that requires them to offer larger elevators, easy access for ambulances, and a registered nurse even when abortions aren't being performed.
The bill was drafted in the wake of outrage over conditions discovered at a West Philadelphia abortion clinic in January. The facility's operator, Kermit Gosnell, faces multiple murder counts for operating an alleged "house of horrors" in which one woman died, and seven infants were born alive but had their spinal cords cut with a pair of scissors.
As one anti-choice advocate said of the new law, "We must have strict oversight of abortion facilities ... to prevent further atrocities against women and children."
It's not clear how adding elbow room to elevators will accomplish that. The law had no support from medical groups, and abortion providers warn that the cost of complying could drive them out of business. In a statement, Planned Parenthood's advocacy arm warned that such "unnecessary overregulation" would very likely "either shut down abortion providers or cause the cost of an abortion to skyrocket."
Which is the point, obviously. There is little public support for a total ban on abortion, so having failed to win the fight honestly, the anti-choice brigade is resorting to dishonest tactics.
As state Rep. Matt Baker, the Tioga County Republican who authored the law's most controversial provisions, put it, "This legislation is necessary to help prevent the cases of infanticide and murder that recently came to light ... at a Philadelphia abortion clinic."
Not according to the District Attorney whose office conducted the grand-jury investigation. In a May 3 letter obtained by Philadelphia City Paper, R. Seth Williams urged legislators that the grand jury "did not recommend that the Legislature change the definition of an ambulatory surgical facility to include all abortion clinics." Gosnell's clinic hadn't been inspected in 17 years; Williams wrote that "Grand Jurors were outraged ... that the laws that are already on the books gave the Department of Health the authority [to police] Gosnell's clinic, but the Department chose not to."
This argument -- "we don't need more laws, just better enforcement of those on the books!" -- is usually pretty popular with the GOP. At least where gun violence is concerned. And ordinarily, when a law-abiding entity complains of "unnecessary overregulation," Republicans are sympathetic. In fact, the very first bill Corbett signed as governor, House Bill 377, overturned a state regulation requiring new homes to be built with sprinkler systems.
House fires, of course, kill women and children too: The month before Corbett signed HB 377, a home fire killed seven children in rural Perry County. But this time, the deaths of seven children were trumped by Republican fear of government overreach.
Garth Everett, the Williamsport Republican who originally sponsored HB 377, worried that installing sprinklers would "add a lot of cost to a home at a very small increase in the safety factor," and risked "handicapping the housing industry in Pennsylvania." Corbett struck a libertarian pose: Equipping homes with sprinklers "should be a decision left to individual consumers and not the government."
For Republicans, however, reproductive decisions are the one area where "individual consumers" -- i.e. women -- can't be trusted.
Some local Democrats voted for the clinic regulations too: Dom Costa, Dan Deasy, Harry Readshaw and Adam Ravenstahl among them. But Democrats, at least, are more likely to care about the fate of mothers and children after birth ... which is typically the point when Republicans lose interest.
Even as the GOP was preparing to regulate clinics out of existence, thousands of working-class women were losing access to the rest of the health system. Under Corbett, the state has allowed the adultBasic insurance program, which helps low-income working people afford health coverage, to lapse. Tens of thousands of Pennsylvania families now struggle to access any medical services at all.
But hey, at least the elevators are roomy.