For many years, Pennsylvania was among the strongest of pro-life states. Democratic Governor Bob Casey, Sr. (of Planned Parenthood v. Casey fame) was a staunch defender of life, for which he paid a dear political price (unlike his son, Pennsylvania’s senior U.S. Senator).
But Pennsylvania was also where abortionist Kermit Gosnell ran his “house of horrors,” snipping the spinal cords of newborns and killing a refugee woman during an abortion. Gosnell, who was not an OB-GYN but only a general practitioner, came to authorities’ notice not because of his abortion business but because of an opioid prescription investigation that uncovered the gruesome filth at 3801 Lancaster Avenue, Philadelphia.
The Gosnell trial also revealed that, despite pro-life laws on its books, bipartisan pro-abortion officials looked the other way when it came to enforcing them. Under pro-abortion Republican Governor Tom Ridge, clinics were not inspected. Today’s Democratic Governor, Josh Shapiro, is doing his best to turn the Keystone State into another blue “abortion sanctuary.” Democrats control the Pennsylvania House by a narrow margin, 102-101, while Republicans—with a 28-22 hold on the State Senate—represent the last wall against wholesale promotion of abortion in the state. An example of the abortion push: on November 15, the Pennsylvania House passed HB 1786, barring Pennsylvania from arresting, extraditing, or serving judicial process on anybody in Pennsylvania charged with performing an abortion in another state, even if that abortion is illegal in the other state. The bill passed by a 117-86 vote.
Catholic World Report spoke recently with Maria Gallagher, Legislative/Political Action Committee Director of the Pennsylvania Pro-Life Federation (the Pennsylvania affiliate of National Right to Life) about the situation on the Susquehanna.
CWR: What is the legal status of abortion in Pennsylvania today?
Maria Gallagher: Abortion is legal in Pennsylvania up to 24 weeks’ gestation. After that point, abortions are not permitted except to save the life of the mother or to prevent an irreversible impairment of a major bodily function. Under the PA Abortion Control Act, a 24-hour waiting period is required for an abortion. A woman must also be told the risks of an abortion and alternatives to abortion prior to an abortion taking place. The Abortion Control Act includes parental consent, meaning that one parent must provide permission for a minor to obtain an abortion. Sex selection abortions are banned in Pennsylvania. In the 1990s, after the Abortion Control Act went into effect, abortion totals plummeted in Pennsylvania by nearly half.
CWR: The Pennsylvania House just passed HB 1786 that prevents the state from arresting or extraditing somebody in Pennsylvania for performing an abortion in that other state, even if that particular abortion is illegal and/or injures the patient. How did the bill’s proponents justify the bill? Is it modeled on other states?
Maria Gallagher: The stated motive for passing the bill was to supposedly guarantee “abortion access,” but that is a misnomer. It is not up to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to guarantee abortions in other jurisdictions. Sixteen other states have similar “shield” laws on the books, and it is a disturbing trend. This allows abortionists to escape justice for the harm they do in other states. It could best be described as an abortionist protection policy, and will hurt women in the end.
CWR: Under the provisions of HB 1786, could a woman harmed in another state by an abortionist who then returns to Pennsylvania be prevented from suing that abortionist or obtaining damages?
Maria Gallagher: It is my understanding that, if a woman is harmed in another state by an abortionist who returns to Pennsylvania, she would be blocked from suing that abortionist or obtaining damages. In this way, the woman would be victimized twice—once by the abortionist, the second time by this gaping hole in the legal system.
CWR: How do supporters of HB 1786 address the question of being able to hold a Pennsylvania abortionist legally accountable for malpractice or injuries caused in another state?
Maria Gallagher: The bill’s advocates claim that doctors who perform abortions should not be penalized. But the problem with their bill is that it could actually hurt women from obtaining justice for any botched “reproductive health care” procedure—including not only abortions, but hysterectomies as well. It would even prevent a man injured during a vasectomy from pursuing a malpractice claim against a PA doctor who performs the procedure in another state. It is a poorly-written bill which could have broad repercussions for people harmed by incompetent or negligent doctors.
CWR: Did those issues surface during the debate? How did the bill’s proponents answer them?
Maria Gallagher: During a meeting of the House Judiciary Committee, backers of the bill brushed off concerns about the bill affecting those harmed by procedures other than abortion. They claimed that the bill was about abortion, period, specifically, protecting women and abortionists from prosecution by pro-life states. But nobody is proposing to prosecute women. The proponents of the measure made no attempt to clarify the bill’s language, so its unintended consequences could be many.
CWR: Pennsylvania was where Kermit Gosnell conducted his infamous abortion “clinic” that snipped the spines of newborns and killed a refugee woman. He’s now serving a life sentence in a Pennsylvania prison. If a Kermit Gosnell did what he did in another state and returned to Pennsylvania, wouldn’t HB 1786 shield him?
Maria Gallagher: Kermit Gosnell is now serving three consecutive life terms for the murders of three newborn babies. When last we checked, he was serving his sentence in Pennsylvania. Sadly, HB 1786 would shield people like Gosnell from being held accountable for their crimes.
CWR: One of the lessons of the Gosnell trial was that, despite pro-life laws on Pennsylvania’s books, he (and lots of other abortionists) operated under the radar for years with impunity. The Commonwealth failed to inspect abortion clinics despite its own regulations. Was there no takeaway from the Gosnell trial–other than pretending that the Kermit Gosnell case should go away?
Maria Gallagher: The takeaway from the Kermit Gosnell trial is that we cannot allow abortion operations to police themselves. They need to be held accountable. The PA legislature wisely passed an abortion center regulation law which requires abortion facilities to be subject to unannounced inspections. Since the law went into effect, a number of abortion centers have closed their doors because they either could not or would not meet basic health and safety standards. The women of Pennsylvania cannot afford to have another Kermit Gosnell operating in their midst.
CWR: Is it fair to say that HB 1786 is part of a regime being erected by blue governors, especially in the Northeast, to create a kind of cordon sanitaire for abortionists, a “sanctuary” region for abortion-on-demand? Is Pennsylvania a “sanctuary state” for abortion? If not, what’s stopping it?
Maria Gallagher: Pro-abortion Governors like Josh Shapiro here in Pennsylvania are trying to establish abortion sanctuaries. Democrat Shapiro would like to turn Pennsylvania into a sanctuary for abortion. Advocates for life are working hard to counteract his dangerous pro-abortion policies, which take the lives of innocent children and cause grave harm to women.
CWR: How else is Governor Shapiro pushing abortion in Pennsylvania?
Maria Gallagher: Governor Shapiro established a pro-abortion website and hotline to further promote abortion in Pennsylvania. He also is threatening to cancel the contract of Real Alternatives, which has run Pennsylvania’s award-winning Pregnancy and Parenting Support Services program for 27 years. The program funds pregnancy resource centers, maternity homes, and adoption agencies throughout PA and has become a model for the rest of the nation. The cancellation of the program could result in a sharp increase in abortions in Pennsylvania.
CWR: We recently reported on efforts in Massachusetts to intimidate pregnancy resource centers. What are some of the threats facing pregnancy resource centers in Pennsylvania?
Maria Gallagher: The “pro-choice” side wants to put pregnancy resource centers out of business. For them, the only “choice” is abortion. In threatening to cancel Real Alternatives’ contract, Governor Shapiro would be leaving many women with no choice but abortion. These pregnancy care centers offer compassionate assistance to pregnant women facing difficult circumstances. Women cannot expect to go to Planned Parenthood and get diapers and baby clothes.
But they can obtain concrete help at pregnancy resource centers. In addition, the centers provide everything from mentoring to parenting classes to assist women. A recent Franklin and Marshall poll found that 56 percent of Pennsylvanians support pregnancy center funding. So, the Governor is on the wrong side of history in trying to defund these life-changing centers.
CWR: Pennsylvania was once clearly a pro-life state: Planned Parenthood v. Casey started in Pennsylvania. What happened? And what are the chances of changing it?
Maria Gallagher: Pennsylvania is home to the landmark Abortion Control Act, which became a model for the rest of the nation in providing basic protections for women and children in the face of Roe. Unfortunately, Governor Shapiro is trying to expand abortion in the Commonwealth. The pro-abortion Democratic leadership in the PA House of Representatives is following suit. Thankfully, pro-life Senators remain in control of the PA Senate, providing an important check against the dangerous pro-abortion policies of the Governor and PA House.
CWR: To many people’s surprise, Pennsylvania sent former Lt. Gov. John Fetterman to the Senate, where he is a reliable voice for abortion. Sen. Bob Casey, who trades on his father’s pro-life reputation while supporting abortion, is up for election in 2024. You’ve had firmly (Rick Santorum, Richard Schweiker) and partially (Pat Toomey) pro-life Senators. What are the chances of sending a pro-life Senator back from Pennsylvania?
Maria Gallagher: Electing a new U.S. Senator is a top priority for advocates for life in Pennsylvania. 2024 is a year of possibility and hope for Pennsylvania on both the state and the federal levels. We also are striving to flip some Congressional seats to the pro-life side. But we will need to work harder than ever before to assure victories at the polls. Each Pennsylvanian for whom life is the number-one issue needs to stand up and be counted.
CWR: Pennsylvania pro-lifers recently marked their annual banquet in Hershey. What were its takeaways?
Maria Gallagher: The takeaways from the recent Celebrate Life Banquet, honoring the life-saving, life-changing work of the Pennsylvania Pro-Life Federation Education Fund, were numerous. We have a vibrant pro-life movement in Pennsylvania that is ready and willing to take on the challenges in our midst. We are reaching thousands of Pennsylvanians through our podcasts and media outreach. We were instrumental in the closing of one of the Commonwealth’s most notorious abortion facilities, Hillcrest, which amassed more than 44 pages of health and safety violations according to state inspectors. We are well positioned to lead Pennsylvania into the post-Roe era.
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