Anti-Abortion Bills Advance in Pennsylvania


Rep. Frank Ryan, R-Lebanon, speaks at a Capitol press conference on property tax elimination on Tuesday, August 20, 2019. Representative Ryan proposed and advanced these bills to Pennsylvania legislators. (Capital-Star photo by Stephen Caruso)

Elisa Edgar, Opinion Editor

On May 25, bipartisan legislators in Pennsylvania voted to advance a Republican anti-abortion bill concerning miscarriages dubbed the “Final Disposition of Fetal Remains Act” (House Bill 118). The bill would require medical facilities to disclose burial options for miscarriages and abortions no matter when they occurred, as well as require women to pay a filing fee for a “Fetal Death Certificate.” It passed the House Health Committee on the 25th as well. 

This comes among three anti-abortion bills that were proposed in PA the week of May 24th, including a “The Heartbeat Bill” (House Bill 905) banning abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detected. Current state law in Pennsylvania permits abortion up to six months or 24 weeks in pregnancy. Under the new law, a physician would have to determine if a fetal heartbeat is present before performing an abortion. Some fetal heartbeats can appear as early as six weeks into pregnancy, when many women are not even aware they’re pregnant yet. 

“The Down Syndrome Protection Act” (House Bill 1500) bans abortions after a possible Down Syndrome diagnosis of the fetus. None of these bills contain any exceptions for rape, incest, maternal health and survival, or fetal anomalies that would prevent the fetus from surviving. All three have passed.

Although the fight against abortion rights has been being waged by Republican lawmakers for years since Roe v. Wade, these are the strictest measures that have come close to becoming law since. The miscarriage bill would essentially force women who had just undergone the emotional and physical toll of a miscarriage to pay fines and hold a “burial” for the fetus, even if it was indistinguishable from menstruation, such as during early pregnancy. 

Representative Frank Ryan introduced the bill because of what he describes of his own experience after losing a child to miscarriage. According to The Erie Times-News, during discussions, Ryan said he was “asking the ladies in the room” to “recognize how men feel”. This quote garnered quick backlash. 

Roughly 15-20% of all pregnancies in the United States end in miscarriage according to the US National Library of Medicine, which is defined as the loss of a fetus before the 20th week. The majority of miscarriages occur within the first seven weeks of pregnancy. According to the American Journal of Public Health, roughly one in four women will have an abortion before they turn 45.

If abortion were to be criminalized in the state or country, women who suffered miscarriages or performed at-home abortions would all be treated as suspects. Criminal investigations would take place and any woman who experienced a loss of pregnancy would have to be investigated for potential homicide. 

Maggie Hayes, a sophomore at State High, was immediately distraught over the bills. 

“These make me feel absolutely terrified. If I were to get pregnant at this age, I 100% would get an abortion because I’m not ready for a child,” Hayes said. “I think that these lawmakers don’t actually know what they’re talking about and a lot of it is fueled by religious ideas that don’t even consider the facts. Anti-abortion people say you can just put the baby up for the foster care system or adoption. But the foster system is broken and filled with abuse and neglect, so is adoption. Also, pregnancy is not risk-free. It can hurt your financial security because of losing a job, you have to pay for doctor appointments. It’s the mother’s choice because ultimately it is her body. If you don’t want to put yourself through pregnancy, it’s perfectly acceptable to put an end to it. People don’t realize the emotional toll; some people go to therapy after losing a pregnancy, no matter how it happened.”

On May 25, Governor Wolf made a statement responding to the bills. Wolf, a Democrat, has opposed right-wing attempts to limit individual healthcare rights in terms of abortion. In 2019, he vetoed two anti-abortion bills, including a heartbeat bill. 

“Once again, members are working to pass anti-choice legislation that would undermine the doctor-patient relationship and limit an individual’s right to decide what happens to their body – including re-running appalling bills that I have vetoed in the past,” Governor Wolf said in a statement after the votes.

Now, Pennsylvanians are simply left to wait and watch whether the bills will transform into law.