Anti-choice advocates want safe access to abortion. Wait, what?

This is rich. Anti-choice advocates are supporting House Bill 574– a bill to alter the legal requirements for abortion clinics- and they’re framing their support by saying they want safe conditions in Pennsylvania’s abortion clinics. The Pennsylvania Family Institute made this point in a Patriot News op-ed, and the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference repeated the same message in an action alert last week.

Reality check. These organizations want women to have no access to abortion care. Do they really expect us to buy this idea that they want women to have safe access to abortion?

HB 574 would rewrite the legal landscape for clinics in such a way that many clinics in Pennsylvania could close. Abortion clinics already follow a long list of laws and regulations, including required equipment and medical supplies, hospital transfer agreements for emergency services, equipment required for anesthesia, clinical staff licensing requirements, laboratory and pathology requirements, required blood tests specific to abortion care, extensive reporting requirements for each abortion, abortion facility requirements, and complications reporting. Abortion is the only medical procedure in the crimes code, for crying out loud.

By changing the legal playing field for abortion clinics, HB 574 would force clinics to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to alter their operations to comply with the law.

And that’s really why these anti-choice advocates support the bill. They know it could further limit women’s access to abortion care in Pennsylvania. But that could lead to a public health crisis in Pennsylvania of significant proportions. Pennsylvania women won’t stop needing abortion care but will be forced to go out of state or to go to disreputable providers. This will particularly impact poor women and rural women.

Dr. Gosnell allegedly committed some terrible crimes. But abortion providers in Pennsylvania who give safe, legal care don’t deserve to be punished for his crimes. That would be the tragedy of HB 574.

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This week at the state capitol

It’s a short week at the state capitol, with session just tomorrow and Wednesday. Hopefully the General Assembly can keep the attacks on civil liberties to a dull roar.

Senate Bill 1, re: taxpayer-funded private school vouchers, will likely get a Senate floor vote this week. If it’s coming up for a vote, that probably means it’s going to pass, but for a few weeks, there’s been speculation that the votes weren’t there to pass it since the planned vote the week of April 11 imploded. Either way, this vote will probably be a heckuva lot closer than supporters would have liked. And that’s good for those of in opposition.

A few bills continue to linger on their respective chamber’s calendars- Senate Bill 637, forcing state contractors to use the Big Brotherly E-Verify database program, and House Bill 574, forcing new and extremely expensive- as in going-out-of-business expensive- regulations on abortion clinics. Neither bill has yet been to their appropriations committees, though, and that is typical protocol. The House will probably finish up its welfare reform debate, including House Bill 1297, which forces some recipients of public aid to take drug tests.

I probably don’t need to say this, but we oppose everything listed above. And you can always find our latest public statements on legislation at our legislative webpage.

Mom publicly shares her pain in support of juvenile justice reform

Legislative committee meetings are usually pretty dry affairs. Legislators and staffers pour through the details of bills while wonkish advocates look on.

But that was not the case in the PA Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday. The committee considered- and ultimately passed- a package of bills to reform Pennsylvania’s juvenile justice system in response to the court scandal in Luzerne County, where two judges took kickbacks from a private detention corporation in exchange for sending more kids to the facilities.

There in support of the legislation was Sandy Fonzo. Ms. Fonzo became the face of the Luzerne scandal when she publicly lashed out at Judge Mark Ciavarella in February. In a brief statement, Ms. Fonzo told the committee the story of her son, Ed Kenzakoski. Ed was an all-star wrestler with high hopes when he was arrested for drug paraphernalia. His family thought he would get a sentence of community service, but instead Ciavarella sentenced Ed first to 30 days in a facility and then to several months at a boot camp more than an hour’s drive from his home. Ms. Fonzo said that he returned an angry, depressed young man, a far cry from the happy teen Ed had been before he encountered Ciavarella. Last year, at the age of 23, Ed shot himself to death.

As Ms. Fonzo told her story at Tuesday’s committee meeting, I could hear sniffles around me and noticed several people wiping their cheeks. This was not just another day at the legislature.

After Ms. Fonzo finished telling her story, the committee chairman, Senator Stewart Greenleaf, told her that her loss would not go unnoticed at the legislature.

The ACLU of PA supports SB 815, prohibiting parents and guardians from waiving counsel for juveniles, and SB 817, prohibiting the use of shackles on juveniles in court, and we look forward to helping this legislation find its way to the governor.

Video of Ms. Fonzo’s statement and the statements of Senator Lisa Baker (R-Luzerne) and John Yudichak (D-Luzerne) is available at the PA Senate Republicans’ website. You won’t regret taking a few minutes to watch it. You can also watch an interview from the Today show with Sandy Fonzo and her lawyer and friend of the ACLU of PA Marsha Levick of the Juvenile Law Center.

Please note that by playing this clip You Tube and Google will place a long-term cookie on your computer. Please see YouTube’s privacy statement on their website and Google’s privacy statement on theirs to learn more. To view the ACLU of PA’s privacy statement, click here.

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Greetings from Harrisburg, reproductive rights edition

The health committees in both the state House and the state Senate were busy this week with abortion. Learn more in our latest edition of Greetings from Harrisburg, our video updates from the state capitol. And here’s our press release in reaction to the week’s activities.

Please note that by playing this clip You Tube and Google will place a long-term cookie on your computer. Please see YouTube’s privacy statement on their website and Google’s privacy statement on theirs to learn more. To view the ACLU of PA’s privacy statement, click here.
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Next week at the state capitol: The one about abortion

Photo courtesy of the ACLU and yesterday’s rally for women’s health in Washington.

Well, here we go. The abortion wars aren’t just for DC anymore. Next week reproductive rights take center stage at the state capitol.

On Monday, the House Health Committee will consider House Bill 574. This bill will require abortion clinics to follow the same regulations as ambulatory surgical facilities, which are clinics where patients can go for outpatient procedures. Why is that an issue? If abortion clinics had to follow these requirements, they would be forced to alter their buildings and their staffing in ways that would cost them hundreds of thousands of dollars. As just two of numerous examples, abortion clinics would have to increase the size of their operating rooms and would have to hire a full-time nurse. (Right now, clinics have a nurse on duty on days that they perform abortions but not on days that they are doing routine OB-GYN and family planning services.)

In reality, HB 574 would close most and maybe all of the freestanding abortion clinics in Pennsylvania. As it stands now, abortion services are only available in a small number of counties. One of our allies said recently that HB 574 would be the greatest rollback of reproductive healthcare in Pennsylvania since the Roe decision. And that’s saying something since we are the state with the Abortion Control Act and the state of Planned Parenthood of Southeastern PA v. Casey.

Our friends at Pennsylvania NOW have created a petition at that will be sent to members of the House Health Committee.

On Tuesday, we get a break, but on Wednesday, it’s right back at it. The Senate Public Health and Welfare Committee will hold a hearing on numerous pieces of legislation that have been introduced in the Senate in response to the indictment of Dr. Kermit Gosnell in Philadelphia. The good news is that none of those bills move abortion clinics under the ASF standards like HB 574. The bad news is that at least two of the bills have some privacy issues, including exposing patient records- with names- to Department of Health inspectors, but we are hopeful that we can work through those issues with the Senate. The most important thing the Senate can do is reject the ASF provisions of HB 574, and so far, senators are doing that.

If you’re interested in attending or watching on PCN (on cable or online), that hearing is at 2pm on Wednesday in Hearing Room 1 of the North Office Building.

In other news, we expect that the Senate Appropriations Committee will vote on SB 1, the taxpayer-funded private school vouchers bill. I know I said that last week, but this week I really mean it.

Also, there is some good legislation moving. On Tuesday, the Senate Judiciary Committee will consider several bills that stem from the Luzerne County juvenile court scandal. SB 815 prohibits juveniles from waiving counsel, which was a huge problem in Luzerne. SB 817 prohibits the shackling of juveniles in court.

Finally, the Senate Judiciary Committee will also consider SB 850, which addresses sexting by minors. We have no position on this bill, and that’s significant because the bill does not have the problems of House Bill 815, which we oppose. SB 850 creates a misdemeanor offense when one minor harms another via cyberbullying, including sexting. HB 815, on the other hand, has problems because it over-criminalizes kids and has First Amendment issues by criminalizing images that involve nudity (and not sex acts) and that are consensual. We’re grateful that Senator Greenleaf has introduced and is moving SB 850 because it provides a counter to what the House has been trying to do for the last year.

Another action-packed week is shaping up at the state capitol.

Update from last week: SB 260 passed out of the Senate Public Health and Welfare Committee. This bill removes the current requirement that patients receive pre-test counseling for HIV tests and allows doctors to require patients to opt-out of HIV testing, rather than opting in via written informed consent. Why it’s a good idea to take information away from patients is beyond me.

SB 637 passed out of the Senate State Government. This bill requires state contractors and sub-contractors to use the federal E-Verify program, an online database program with more than 500 million records of personal information on us. We oppose.

HB 934, the voter ID bill, was debated in the House State Government Committee but not voted yet. We expect a committee vote soon on this awful bill.

We’ll keep working on these bills, of course. But as I told an ally recently, what do we do with legislators who refuse to listen?

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Greetings from Harrisburg, voting rights edition

A bill to disfranchise voters via a photo ID requirement is on the move in the state House. HB 934 will get a committee vote soon. Learn more in this video and at
Please note that by playing this clip You Tube and Google will place a long-term cookie on your computer. Please see YouTube’s privacy statement on their website and Google’s privacy statement on theirs to learn more. To view the ACLU of PA’s privacy statement, click here.
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