PA House Rushes to Vote on Extreme Anti-Abortion Bill

By Julie Zaebst, Director, Clara Bell Duvall Reproductive Freedom Project

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Update: June 21, 2016

Soon after this post was originally published in early April, HB 1948 stalled in the House. Now, the House is poised to take a final vote on the bill as early as this afternoon, Tuesday, June 21st. A companion bill, SB 888, has also been introduced in the Senate and has been referred to the Judiciary Committee.

April 6, 2016

Yesterday, the House Health Committee moved with breath-taking speed to vote on an extreme anti-abortion bill that would make it illegal to provide abortion care to some of the most vulnerable women in some of the most difficult circumstances. House Bill 1948 would ban abortion after 20 weeks and would ban the safest and most common method of second trimester abortion, preventing doctors from making decisions based on medical science and putting women’s health at risk.

The bill contains only a very narrow exception of the health and life of the woman – one that could force doctors to wait until the woman’s health deteriorates before providing her with the abortion care she desperately needs. And the bill includes no exception for rape, incest or fetal anomalies, which often aren’t discovered until a woman’s 20-week ultrasound.

Make no mistake – this is one of the most extreme abortion bans we’ve seen in any state legislature. Only two other states – Kansas and Oklahoma – have enacted this type of “method ban,” and both of these laws have been put on hold by the courts because they raise serious constitutional issues. Method bans substitute a political agenda for a doctor’s expert opinion about which procedure is best for their patient – and threaten doctors with criminal charges if they follow their professional training and conscience and perform an abortion using this method.

But the House Health Committee didn’t pause to consider the expert opinions of doctors or to ask themselves whether this bill would pass constitutional muster. The committee voted to advance HB 1948 just one business day after the legislation was introduced and after just an hour of debate. Members voted against holding a public hearing that would have provided an opportunity for the real experts – medical professionals and families who have sought later abortion care – to share their knowledge and experience with lawmakers.

Anti-choice lawmakers claim that abortion restrictions don’t “punish women,” as Donald Trump recently suggested they should. It’s true that HB 1948 wouldn’t impose criminal penalties on women – only on the medical professionals who are addressing women’s medical needs using evidence-based protocols that are the standard of care for their profession.

But let’s be clear, these types of restrictions do punish women. Just last week, we heard the story of a woman in Texas who was forced to wait for her fetus to die in utero and endure a stillbirth because of a similar type of restriction on later abortion care. When women and their families are confronted with complex medical issues like this, they deserve compassionate care guided by the best medical science – not political interference.

We can’t stand by while lawmakers ram through a dangerous bill with callous disregard for the health and well-being of women seeking later abortion care or for the medical expertise of the doctors who are doing their best to serve them. Contact your lawmaker today and let them know you believe a woman’s health, not politics, should drive important medical decisions.

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Julie Julie Zaebst has served as director of the Clara Bell Duvall Reproductive Freedom Project since 2014, bringing more than 10 years of experience as a program manager and advocate. A social worker by training, she previously worked in child welfare and as the associate director of the civic engagement Office at Bryn Mawr College.

ACLU-PA Takes Lead In Campaign For Women’s Health

By Julie Zaebst, Project Manager, Duvall Reproductive Freedom Project

facebook.Justice4.StandWithPregnantWorkers.2015Yesterday, a bipartisan group of legislators came together in Harrisburg to introduce a legislative Agenda for Women’s Health. Lately, when I hear lawmakers use the phrase “women’s health,” it makes me cringe. How have lawmakers across the country justified passing completely unnecessary regulations that require abortion clinics to have hospital-grade elevators and driveways large enough to accommodate an ambulance – a move clearly (and successfully) designed to close dozens of clinics? These regulations are necessary to protect “women’s health,” of course. Why are state legislatures rushing to require abortion providers to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital, when complications from abortion are extremely rare and hospitals are already required to treat patients experiencing a medical emergency? Well, it’s a matter of “women’s health.”

You can understand my skepticism when the words “women’s health” come out of a politician’s mouth.

But the package of bills unveiled in Harrisburg is different. The legislation was developed by the bipartisan, bicameral Women’s Health Caucus, with the input of advocates (including real women! And real experts in women’s health!) It recognizes that women’s health and well-being are impacted by a range of issues, from economic fairness and family-friendly workplace policies to real access to reproductive and comprehensive health care. In a departure from what we’ve often seen in Harrisburg, the legislation proposes evidence-based strategies to address real health issues that women across Pennsylvania face every day.

The ACLU of Pennsylvania is excited to be a leader in the Campaign for Women’s Health, a statewide advocacy coalition supporting this package of bills. We know that advocates are tired of fighting senseless proposal after senseless proposal to restrict access to abortion care, when their families and communities have real health needs the legislature could address. This campaign gives advocates the opportunity to rally around legislation that would make real improvements in the health and well-being of women across the state right now. In fact, last legislative session, three bills that were a part of the Campaign for Women’s Health were signed into law. This includes a bill that prohibits municipalities from punishing victims of crime, including survivors of domestic violence, for calling for emergency services.

I’m looking forward to more legislative successes this session – and to being able to keep a straight face when Pennsylvania lawmakers utter the words “women’s health.”

You can learn more about the Campaign for Women’s Health and how to get involved at www.pa4womenshealth.org.

“Save Roe”

By Julie Zaebst, Project Manager, Duvall Reproductive Freedom Project

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It has been 42 years since the Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade legalized abortion, but somehow, on this cold, slushy Thursday, I found myself standing in the middle of Broad Street holding a sign that said “Save Roe.”

Some days, I wonder how we got to the point where it doesn’t seem far-fetched to say that Roe needs saving. Today, though, I was grateful to stand with a small crowd in Center City Philadelphia and remind passersby what safe, legal abortion means for women and their families. Of course, it’s about the ability to decide when and under what circumstances to take on the incredible responsibility of having a child. But it’s also about access to basic health care for women. It’s about financial stability. It’s about opportunities and dreams. It’s about respect and equality.

A lot of people on Broad Street today understood that. We got honks of support and thumbs-up. People rolled down their car windows to cheer and say thank you. The only counter-protestor who dared to join us kept her headphones in the whole time.

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(This rally was organized by Planned Parenthood Southeastern pennsylvania)

I wish I could have brought members of Congress out today to see that the American people get it – and that we’re paying attention. Late last night, the House of Representatives dropped plans to vote on a bill that would have banned abortion after the 20th week of pregnancy, amid concerns about the “optics” of the issue. This sounds like a victory, but instead, the House approved a bill that targets abortion access for low-income women: HR 7 would ban federal insurance coverage of abortion, including in insurance policies sold on the state exchanges.

I’m afraid I’ll be back on Broad Street at this time next year, still holding my “Save Roe” sign. I hope you’ll be there to join me.

ACLU ACTION >> Protect Women’s Reproductive Decisions

Julie Julie Zaebst joined the ACLU-PA in July 2014, bringing more than 10 years of experience as a program manager and advocate.

Protect Pennsylvania’s Pregnant Workers

By Julie Zaebst, Project Manager, Duvall Reproductive Freedom Project
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Anyone who has been pregnant or accompanied a partner through pregnancy knows it’s not always easy, even under the best circumstances. When my partner was pregnant with our son last year, she was perfectly healthy and had what you would call an “easy pregnancy.” But still, her lifestyle changed (and mine along with it!). At work, my partner ate small snacks throughout the day, used the restroom more often, and stood up to stretch and walk around every now and then. That’s what she needed to do to stay healthy.

But imagine having to choose between a healthy pregnancy and your job – right at the moment when your income and your employer-sponsored health insurance (if you’re lucky enough to have it) are most important. Too many pregnant women, especially those in low-wage or physically demanding jobs, are put in that position because their employers refuse to accommodate pregnant women in the same way that they routinely accommodate other workers, including those who are injured on the job or are covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). And unfortunately some courts have agreed that this is OK.

In many cases, pregnant women need simple job modifications to be able to continue to work – more frequent restroom breaks, a stool to sit on, or permission to carry a water bottle. In some cases, they may need to be put on light duty. But by definition, these are temporary accommodations. Studies show that accommodating pregnancy-related conditions is typically low-cost and low-effort. And there are big benefits for employers, including increased worker productivity and retention.

Recognizing these benefits for employees and employers, Pittsburgh City Council passed two common-sense measures designed to protect pregnant women in the workplace. One measure clarifies that discrimination based on sex includes discrimination based on pregnancy, childbirth or a related condition. This strengthens anti-discrimination protections for pregnant workers. The other measure requires many city contractors to provide reasonable accommodations to enable pregnant women to continue in their jobs, unless this would impose an undue hardship on the employer.

Unfortunately, Pittsburgh City Council doesn’t have the authority under state law to expand protections to pregnant women who work for private employers. Now, it’s up to the state legislature to step in and pass the Pennsylvania Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, which would provide coverage to more women in Pittsburgh and protect women in other parts of the state as well. This must be a priority when the legislature reconvenes in the new year.

In 2014, it should not be news to anyone that women are in the workforce, and they are often the sole or primary breadwinners for their families. It’s time for the law to catch up with reality and protect pregnant workers from having to make an impossible choice. Pennsylvania women should not be forced to choose between their health and their livelihood anymore.

Julie Zaebst joined the ACLU-PA in July 2014, bringing more than 10 years of experience as a program manager and advocate.

Meet Julie Zaebst, Project Manager of The Clara Bell Duvall Reproductive Freedom Project

Julie Zaebst

Julie Zaebst

Julie Zaebst joined the ACLU-PA in July 2014, bringing more than 10 years of experience as a program manager and advocate. Most recently, she directed the Policy Center at the Coalition Against Hunger, where she led the organization’s advocacy initiatives to protect and enhance the federal nutrition programs in Pennsylvania, including food stamps and school meals. Before getting started, we asked Julie some questions about her previous experience and what she’s looking forward to in her new role as Project Manager of the Clara Bell Duvall Reproductive Freedom Project.

What most interested you about this position?

I always imagined that I would devote my career to women’s health and reproductive rights. These were the issues that first politicized me as a student, and I spent much of my time and energy as a student and young professional working on these issues in a volunteer capacity. But a different opportunity came my way. Instead, I had a chance to serve as an advocate for low-income people who are struggling with hunger and for the federal nutrition programs, like food stamps, that help them put healthy food on the table. This has been an incredible experience, and I’ve learned a lot about what it takes to be an effective advocate. I’m excited to have the opportunity to bring my skills and passion to the issue of reproductive rights at the ACLU of Pennsylvania.

Where were you before joining the Clara Bell Duvall Reproductive Freedom Project and the ACLU of Pennsylvania?

Over the past 10 years, I’ve worn many different hats at the Coalition Against Hunger – volunteer coordinator, advocacy coordinator and interim executive director. Most recently, I managed the Coalition’s policy center, where I directed initiatives to protect and enhance the federal nutrition programs in Pennsylvania, including food stamps, school meals, and the child care food program.

Prior to that, I served as the Associate Director of the Civic Engagement Office at Bryn Mawr College, which facilitates service-learning and volunteer opportunities for undergraduates. I learned an enormous amount from the students, faculty and community partners about what it means to be an engaged citizen and how to foster that type of engagement in our communities.

How do you think your previous experiences will help you in this new role?

In my roles at the Coalition Against Hunger and at Bryn Mawr College, I had the chance to hone a diverse set of skills that I’ll be tapping into as the Duvall Project Manager: public education, constituent mobilization, coalition-building, and legislative and administrative advocacy. I love putting these different strategies and skills to work to effect policy change, and I’m thrilled to have the chance to do so in the area of reproductive rights in Pennsylvania.

What are you most excited about taking over the project?

I’m excited to carry forward the incredible work that the Duvall Project has been doing to ensure incarcerated women’s access to reproductive health services. This initiative raises critical civil liberties issues that sit at the intersection of prisoners’ rights and reproductive rights, and I see ACLU-PA as uniquely positioned to address these issues that otherwise might go unnoticed. Carol has laid a terrific groundwork for this initiative, both in terms of research and relationship-building, and the Duvall Project has already achieved some great successes in reforming jails’ policies about reproductive health care.

What are some future projects you foresee the CBD Project taking on?

Recently, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the ways that stigma impacts the issues that I care about and the public policy work that I do. For instance, I’ve worked closely with Witnesses to Hunger, a program at Drexel University that provides a space for mothers to share their personal experiences with hunger through photos and story-telling and that brings their perspectives to bear in policy debates about the nutrition programs. I’ve been humbled by these women’s willingness to share their experiences and impressed with the ways in which their personal stories can humanize and ground technical, often polarized public policy debates and influence their outcomes.

I was excited to hear that the ACLU is having a similar conversation about stigma around reproductive rights. I see great opportunity to address issues of stigma and center the voices and experiences of women and men who have had to grapple with difficult reproductive health decisions. By engaging in public education and organizing with the goal of addressing this stigma, I think we can begin to bring about the cultural shift necessary to ultimately affect public policy.

What do you think are the biggest obstacles to reproductive freedom?

It sometimes seems that the story of reproductive rights is one of death by a thousand cuts. The specific restrictions placed on women’s reproductive rights are often complex or obscure in nature, and considered in isolation they may seem insignificant to much of the general public. Yet together, this patchwork of laws and regulations makes access to safe and affordable abortions – and sometimes other critical reproductive health services – increasingly difficult for women across Pennsylvania, especially low-income women. One of the ongoing challenges for the reproductive rights movement will be to continue to educate supporters about the impact of these restrictions and to galvanize strong opposition to each and every effort to limit women’s reproductive freedoms. This is especially critical as more and more supporters – like myself – belong to the post-Roe generation and don’t have a personal, first-hand understanding of what it would mean to entirely lose the freedoms granted by that court decision.