PA Republicans Pushing Constitutional Amendment to Control Women’s Bodies

The GOP bill states: “There is no right to abortion or funding for an abortion.”
abortion rights
Solebury resident Erin Kershaw (l) and her 16-year-old daughter Kaitlyn organized a rally in downtown Doylestown calling for the protection of abortion rights. Photo by Sue-Ann DiVito.

Democratic Governor Tom Wolf has vetoed every piece of anti-abortion legislation passed by the Republicans since 2015, which is why Senate Bill-956 is so dangeorus.

On Monday, June 7, the Pennsylvania Senate voted 29-20 (all Democrats voted NO) to give this anti-abortion bill second consideration, and moves it one vote closer to final approval by the Senate. The legislation must twice pass through both the Senate and House in consecutive sessions before ultimately being put on the ballot statewide for voter approval.

SB-956 is not your typical anti-abortion bill – it is a proposed amendment that would enshrine anti-abortion measures in the state’s constitution thereby acting as an end-around to avoid the governor’s veto.

This bill is remarkably simple and states: “There is no right to abortion or funding for an abortion.” 

READ: PA GOP Has Weaponized Constitutional Amendments To Subvert Democracy

Here’s the reality of the proposed amendment: should the U.S. Supreme Court overturn Roe v Wade as expected, control of abortion rights will revert to each individual state. Furthermore, if Pennsylvania’s Constitution is amended to reflect the intent of SB-956, and should Republican Doug Mastriano win the November gubernatorial election, a lot of groundwork will have been laid in advance for the implementation of extraordinarily punitive measures to prevent a woman’s right to choose.

How is the state’s constitution amended? It is most frequently done in the voting booth via public referendum. Republicans have notoriously placed questions on ballots during low turnout elections such as midterms and those for municipal election positions, such as school board directors and tax collectors. SB-956 is drafted to reflect the Pennsylvania public referendum process.

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Here’s an example of how the public referendum process plays out: on the May 18, 2021 municipal election ballot, a question as to whether or not an amendment should be made to the state’s constitution for the purpose of curtailing the emergency powers of the governor appeared; the referendum passed, with a mere 13 percent of voters deciding to change the constitution.

Don’t let the simplicity of SB-956 fool you because it has far reaching ramifications. Key to the extent of the Republicans proposed amendment is the following verbiage: 

“The policy of Pennsylvania is to protect the life of every unborn child from conception to birth to the extent permitted by the Federal Constitution.”

This vague statement leaves open to interpretation when life begins. This proposed constitutional amendment could potentially:

1) Prohibit all abortion without exception, including in the case of rape or incest

2) Prohibit all abortion even when the pregnancy places a woman’s life at risk

3) Prohibit the ability to utilize in vitro fertilization

4) Prohibit specific forms of birth control, such as an IUD

5) Prohibit doctors from providing specific medical care to pregnant women

6) Prohibit stem cell research

The list goes on. 

The phrase “no right to funding of abortion” is another huge red flag.
This provision would disproportionately impact lower income women along with those who utilize fully or partially government funded programs, including the Affordable Care Act, as well as recipients of Medicaid and CHIP.

The proposed constitutional amendment also has a sister bill in the PA House – HB-2252 – that also needs to be watched very closely. 

The way to stop SB-956 and HB-252 are two-fold: (a) register Democrats to vote and (b) energize everyone you know to vote not only in November but in every election – especially municipal elections.

November 8 is Election Day. Democracy, along with women’s rights, is on the ballot. This could be the most important election of your lifetime. Check your voter registration to make sure it’s current and encourage others to do the same by clicking here.

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Jenny Stephens

Jenny Stephens is a freelance journalist who has written for a variety of publications, including The Reporter. An avid collector of all things vintage, she resides in the Philadelphia area.

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