2011-06-16 / Local & State

Abortion Hot Topic In Legislature

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) – Abortion legislation has not been front-and-center in Harrisburg for decades, but that has changed with a series of three recent votes, and a fourth expected in the coming week.

The push in the Republican controlled Legislature has abortion rights advocates warning it is part of a coordinated attack on legalized abortion across the country, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported Sunday.

The debate in the Capitol comes in the wake of a grand jury’s report this year about unsanitary and allegedly criminal conditions inside a west Philadelphia abortion clinic. The clinic had not been inspected by state regulators for 17 years.

“What we feared would happen, did,’’ said Dayle Steinberg, president of Southeastern Pennsylvania Planned Parenthood. “Those who oppose abortion have given up on Roe, so they whittle away at freedoms granted under Roe by taking it to the states.’’

A think tank that studies reproductive health issues told the paper that 70 abortion restrictions have been enacted in the United States this year. The second-highest number was 34 restrictions approved in 2005, said Elizabeth Nash of the Guttmacher Institute.

The Pennsylvania Family Institute has rallied its members to support a bill sponsored by Sen. Bob Mensch, R-Montgomery, imposing stricter regulations on Pennsylvania abortion clinics.

“We care about all life,’’ said the institute’s president, Michael Geer. “We don’t want the women going in to be harmed, even if one life is definitely at risk.’’

In the state House, a bill sponsored by Rep. Matt Baker, R-Bradford, would subject all freestanding abortion clinics in the state to the same standards required of ambulatory surgical facilities. A final vote on a similar Senate bill is expected in the coming week.

Requiring some existing clinics to expand or retrofit and add staff are new costs that could result in closures. Steinberg said that after a similar law was adopted in Texas, 18 of 20 clinics went out of business.

Mensch told the paper he has not seen evidence to back up the threat that some abortion clinics will shut down rather than comply with his bill.

“ I’ve asked them to show me the evidence, but I haven’t seen it,’’ Mensch said. “Please, let’s not make this into a pro-life, proabortion issue. Let’s make this about the health and safety of women. Because that’s what it should be about.’’

A bill passed the state Senate law week to prohibit abortion coverage by policies obtained through the health-insurance exchanges set to begin in 2014 under the federal health care law. It is pending in the state House.

The sponsor, Sen. Don White, R-Indiana, said tax money is being used to set up those exchanges, so the sale of insurance policies that cover abortion would be tantamount to taxpayer funded abortions.

Guttmacher said eight states have enacted similar measures.

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