Friday, April 08, 2011

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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