Despite opposition from Senate Democrats, Republicans in the upper chamber advanced a proposal to add language to the Pennsylvania Constitution stating that the governing document does not guarantee any rights relating to abortion or public funding for the procedure.
After voting to waive a rule banning votes after 11 p.m., the Senate Rules Committee on Thursday tacked on proposed amendments, including language requiring voters to show ID at polling places, allowing gubernatorial candidates to select their running mates, and creating a system for election audits. The bill also includes language that would let lawmakers disapprove regulations without a possible veto from the governor.
As lawmakers in the Republican-controlled General Assembly continue efforts to pass a state budget, the Senate could vote on the package of proposed amendments — Senate Bill 106 — on Friday.
A governor cannot veto a constitutional amendment, which must pass the Legislature in two consecutive sessions and be publicly advertised before reaching voters, who have the final say on the proposal.
Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa (D-Allegheny), said the abortion-related amendment — which includes language pulled from a proposal introduced by Sen. Judy Ward (R-Blair) last year — would restrict abortions across Pennsylvania.
“I don’t need a single person in this room to tell me what to do with my body,” Sen. Katie Muth (D-Montgomery) said.
She added: “This chamber is being used as a campaign platform for all sorts of attacks.”
Ward, however, argued that the proposal would give the General Assembly power over abortion law and added that existing law would remain in place.
“This constitutional amendment will just go to the people, and it allows us in the Legislature the ability to set these rules and laws concerning abortion in this commonwealth,” Ward said.
Senate Democrats, who proposed a series of failed amendments, accused Republicans of introducing constitutional amendments to avoid a veto from Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf. It is a lengthy and costly process, but the GOP saw success after voters approved a proposed amendment curtailing gubernatorial emergency powers after frustrations related to Wolf’s COVID-19 response.
Costa said he asked Senate Republican leadership at least a dozen times on Thursday when they planned to vote on the constitutional amendment package but never received an answer, accusing them of intentionally waiting until late at night to advance the proposal.
“They are running a constitutional amendment to ban abortion at 10:30 at night after creating a slew of other news to be covered, so people won’t get to see it amongst other headlines,” Sen. Amanda Cappelletti (D-Delaware) said.
After the committee advanced legislation — including all of the Republicans’ proposed amendments — Democrats on the panel told reporters that the approach adopted by the GOP is “undemocratic.”
Sen. Anthony Williams (D-Philadelphia) described their actions as “dangerous” to the Democratic process.
“They introduced their amendment, and they got to vote on their amendment, debate their amendment, and vote their amendment,” Williams said. “Our amendments were tabled. That’s not a democratic process. That’s not a transparent process, nor is it a fair process.”
In a statement issued Friday morning, Planned Parenthood Pennsylvania Advocates Executive Director Signe Espinoza said Republican lawmakers “are using the constitutional amendment process to bypass the governor, and they are legislation in the middle of the night to avoid your scrutiny as they erode your rights.”
“It’s shameful, undemocratic, and wrong,” she said.
Marley Parish is a reporter with the Pennsylvania Capital-Star, where this story first appeared.