Last month Pennsylvania legislators excluded input from the medical community on a proposed abortion bill — they purposefully chose not to hear medical opinions prior to voting.
The abortion bill, also known as Senate Bill 3, was passed with a Republican majority in the Pennsylvania Senate on Feb. 8. If it’s passed next Monday in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives vote, it would ban most abortions performed after 20 weeks, except in the case of medical emergencies, which do not include rape or incest. Currently, Pennsylvania cannot restrict abortions before 24 weeks.
The bill would also criminalize dilation and evacuation, abbreviated as D&E, which is the most common, safe method to perform abortions after 16 weeks.
“It’s clear that their agenda is not about women’s health and safety here,” said Maggie Groff, the vice president for external affairs at Planned Parenthood Southeastern Pennsylvania. “Their agenda is to deny access to abortion services.”
Gov. Tom Wolf said he would veto the bill, but there may be enough votes in the legislature to override this action.
In moving this bill forward, legislators have relied more on partisan beliefs about abortion than medical facts. This shows a high level of indifference for the women who legislators claim to protect. I urge the state House to not pass this bill and to recognize the importance of the medical community’s input in future health care legislation.
According to legislation that came out of Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court case that legalized abortion in the United States, states can’t ban abortions before the fetus is able to survive birth, which is usually after 24 weeks.
But some legislators use gestational age, determined by the first day of a woman’s last period, instead of the age of the fetus, as an underhanded way to ban abortions earlier on.
“They’re counting that as part of the pregnancy even though they’re not pregnant at that point in time,” said Mitchell Sellers, a political science professor. “So that’s how some of the states have actually dropped it to 20 [weeks].”
Sen. Michele Brooks of Mercer County, the bill’s sponsor, cited a new study on fetal viability, which argues fetuses have a higher chance of surviving at 22 to 24 weeks. That’s why the bill would ban abortions after 20 weeks.
Dr. Enrique Hernandez, an OB/GYN and reproductive sciences professor, said the study is not unique — it is already widely known that about 25 percent of infants can survive after 23 weeks gestation, but 90 percent of them have moderate to severe impairment.
“They’re using an argument that is partially correct, but doesn’t take into consideration all the nuances of that,” Hernandez said.
Sen. Brooks wrote in the bill that “this legislation also helps protect the health and well-being of a pregnant female.”
I don’t see how Brooks thinks this bill can protect anyone’s health if medical opinions were ignored, especially because this bill would ban one of the safest options for some women seeking an abortion: D&E.
“The bill is banning that particular procedure that is the safest and the most commonly used procedure after about 15 weeks gestation,” Groff said.
According to the Pennsylvania Department of Health, there were 31,818 abortions performed statewide in 2015. Only 380 of those abortions were done after 20 weeks, but about 60 percent of them were a D&E procedure.
“[It] seems like people are going out of their way to pick at things that aren’t the most prominent issues that are currently happening around reproductive health,” said Maegan Tomasello, a master’s of music therapy student.
“I believe a woman should have the choice to have an abortion when she wants to, and especially in cases like rape,” said Courtney Idasetima, a junior media studies and production major. “Women should have the option to get it at any time.”
If this bill is really about women’s health, then the Senate Judiciary Committee should have also wanted input from the medical community on D&E. Instead, in the language of the bill, legislators refer to the procedure as “dismemberment abortion,” which is not a medically accepted term.
State legislators should not use made-up terms when crafting bills. This is why members of the medical community needed to be present to correct these mistakes.
But in this instance, they weren’t.
Legislators need to include the medical community when drafting legislation about reproductive rights. And we as Pennsylvanians need to hold our legislators accountable and not allow them to ignore medicine and science in their policies.
Zari Tarazona can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.