Thursday, December 22, 2011

2011 in Review: Politics or health? Governor chooses politics

Today Governor Corbett signed Senate Bill 732, a bill to alter the legal landscape for women's health centers that provide abortion care. The governor signed the bill with little fanfare. He signed it behind closed doors and only announced it via a press release with a brief description of SB 732 and 12 other bills he signed today.

There's been little doubt, almost from the start, that the drive to force abortion clinics to follow ambulatory surgical facility (ASF) regulations has been driven by politics and not by what's best for women's health. While the supporters talked about women's safety, not a single medical association- not one- supported the bill and several opposed. Meanwhile, the supporters of the bill were those who think that women should have no access to abortion care, including the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference, the Pennsylvania Family Institute, and the Pennsylvania Pro-Life Federation.

The supporters used the indictment of Kermit Gosnell in Philadelphia as justification for the bill, but the original SB 732- the language that the other side amended into an oblivion- actually addressed the real problem in the Gosnell case- a lack of government oversight. SB 732 originally codified the inspection process for abortion clinics.  It was a bit heavy-handed and had some minor problems, but it was certainly better public policy than what the governor ultimately signed. And it actually was a direct answer to the problems that the Gosnell case brought to light.

Instead, zealots used the Gosnell case as an opportunity they've anticipated for years, an opportunity to place burdens so great on clinics that they might be forced to close, temporarily or permanently.  Now abortion clinics could be forced to install hospital-grade elevators, construct parking lots and driveways big enough for an ambulance, and double the size of their operating rooms for a medical procedure with a complication rate of 0.1 percent.

The ACLU of Pennsylvania has fought this legislation since February with our allies in Pennsylvanians for Choice, a coalition of advocates and agencies that support women's access to reproductive healthcare. What's beautiful about the ACLU of Pennsylvania is that we can fight these struggles in multiple arenas. Our legislative department takes on bad ideas before they become law and usually does so successfully.  If bad legislation gets through, our legal team takes over and takes the government to court.  And our community organizers support that work across the board through public education, coalition building, etc. As I write this, our lawyers are analyzing SB 732 to determine if a legal challenge could be viable.

And that's why your support of the ACLU of Pennsylvania is so critical.  Without you, there might be one less lobbyist, one less lawyer, one less community organizer to push back when our government tries to erode our rights. I'm at the capitol every session day, and I can tell you that the threat is real.  Please donate today - because freedom can't protect itself.


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