Secure Our Rights: Pass the Reproductive Freedom Act in Pennsylvania

"We must ensure abortion is emphatically protected under Pennsylvania law, and not merely tolerated because of an oversight by anti-choice zealots of 40 years ago," writes PA State Rep. Kristine Howard.

Two years ago, in overturning Roe v. Wade, the United States Supreme Court declared that it was for each state to decide just how many rights women ought to have, and how equal we ought to be. Three generations of women had come of age believing that the Constitution guaranteed our freedom to decide motherhood for ourselves, that it was not expected that our primary — and often only — role in the world was motherhood.

Given this right to determine women’s rights and roles by the Dobbs decision, the states wasted no time in deciding; in many states, the procedure was outlawed immediately. 

Pennsylvania was not one of those states, but only because of existing law meant to restrict it. In an extreme case of dramatic irony, a law in our Criminal Code, “The Abortion Control Act,” keeps the procedure legal here. Initially passed in the 1980s to restrain abortion and to stigmatize it as a criminal matter, the law nonetheless states that abortion is legal up to 24 weeks, as the Constitution required.

The Abortion Control Act was a bold conservative experiment to see just how much chiseling away of abortion rights the state could get away with. In 1992, the United States Supreme Court affirmed the great bulk of the new restrictions, emboldening many other states to go just short of banning abortion, knowing most restrictions would be found acceptable to the Court. 

READ: House Republicans Vote to Limit Access to Reproductive Care for Women in the Military

The situation could certainly be worse — what was once a curtailment of rights is now, unbelievably, the guarantor of rights in Pennsylvania. This should be cold comfort, because the discriminatory framework created by the act created a reality in which over half of all Pennsylvania women have no access to abortion in their county, and the burdens put on women — like a 24-hour waiting period — are still the law. These restrictions disproportionately impact low-income women, women of color, and those in abusive relationships, who often cannot get away for an extended trip without many questions.

We must ensure abortion is emphatically protected under Pennsylvania law, and not merely tolerated because of an oversight by anti-choice zealots of 40 years ago. To that end, I introduced the Reproductive Freedom Act (House Bill 2304), which erases and replaces the Abortion Control Act.

This new legislation treats abortion as health care and bans any regulation that would not be placed on other medical procedures. This will prevent ideologically driven bureaucrats and judges from infringing upon our rights. More importantly, it eliminates all of the burdensome and discriminatory restrictions placed on abortion by the Abortion Control Act. It will signal to other states that Pennsylvania is now a leader on abortion rights, just as we sadly were a leader on restricting abortion in the 1980s.

It is past time to right our wrongs and ensure the rights of Pennsylvanians to have the lives they want, to be free in their bodies, and to encourage others to follow our lead.

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Picture of PA State Rep. Kristine Howard

PA State Rep. Kristine Howard

Kristine Howard is a Democratic member of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, representing the 167th legislative district.

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