Philadelphia Daily News John Baer column

2017-12-06 | Philadelphia Daily News

Dec. 05--The Pennsylvania Legislature, basically a man cave along the Susquehanna, isn't known for championing women's rights.

That might well be because of its makeup.

It's the manliest (if only in the numerical sense) of legislatures in the Northeastern states.

It's 39th among all states in percentage of women lawmakers (18.6 percent), lower than neighbors Ohio, New York, New Jersey, Delaware and Maryland, according to 2017 data from the Rutgers Center for American Women and Politics.

It's right down there with Alabama, Louisiana, Kentucky, and such.

So, no real surprise that even at a time when politics seems to favor women, the Pennsylvania Legislature, run by Republicans, is moving to restrict women's rights.

The House Health Committee Monday evening, on short notice, voted to send a strict anti-abortion bill to the full House for passage.

The bill bans abortions at 20 weeks (current law is 24) and criminalizes physicians performing a second-trimester abortion procedure, "dilation and evacuation," which the bill calls "dismemberment abortions."

The committee vote was 16-10. No Republican voted against it. No Democrat voted for it.

Opponents made a few observations.

Rep. Kevin Boyle (D., Phila.) said it's "striking" there's no exemption for rape, especially given current national attention to sexual assault against women.

There are no exemptions for fetal anomaly or incest, either.

Rep. Pam DeLissio (D., Phila.) said, "We're tying the hands of health-care practitioners."

Unless they're saving the mother's life.

Rep. Mary Jo Daley (D., Montgomery) said, "I'm always just appalled at how easily we make these votes."

Yet, so it goes.

The House easily passed a similar bill last year, 132-65, but the Senate did not take it up. This year is different.

The Senate passed the bill now in question (S.B. 3) back in February by a 32-18 margin. The full House is expected to vote "within the next week," says Health Committee Chairman Rep. Matt Baker (R., Tioga).

It's likely to pass.

This is despite Democratic Gov. Wolf vowing to veto any such legislation. In a statement, Wolf called the bill "the most extreme anti-choice legislation in the country," adding, "Women's health care decisions should be left up to women and their doctors, not politicians in Harrisburg."

A view clearly not shared by the GOP-controlled Legislature.

In fact, said Legislature works hard to pass such measures.

For example, after the Senate acted earlier this year, the House Health Committee, let's just say, upgraded its anti-abortion cred.

Two of its GOP members who voted against passage of last year's bill -- Rep. Frank Farry (R., Bucks); Rep. Todd Stephens (R., Montgomery) -- "resigned" (or were tossed) from the committee. They were replaced by Rep. Jim Cox (R., Berks) and Rep. John Lawrence (R., Chester), who voted for last year's bill.

This, according to a report from the House Committee on Committees (yes, there is such a thing) in this year's April 5 Legislative Journal.

Coincidental?

I suppose it's possible. But I also suppose the committee wanted to pad anti-abortion votes just in case.

And I suppose GOP leadership wants to give its anti-abortion members a win headed into the 2018 Primary Election season -- for most, the only season that counts.

And I suppose two top Republican lawmakers, Sen. Scott Wagner of York County and House Speaker Mike Turzai of Pittsburgh, want polished pro-life badges headed into their primary fight for the GOP nomination for governor.

The immediate question is whether there are enough votes in both chambers to override a Wolf veto. Opponents of the bill say probably not. Baker says "time will tell."

It will indeed. And it will tell whether women, who are standing up in droves to men in power on a range of issues related to women's bodies, look kindly on people in power (or seeking power) when it comes to this issue in 2018 elections.