Tuesday, July 02, 2013

The rocky road of defending civil liberties in Harrisburg

"Later, y'all! Y'inz! You guys!"

The last trickle of activity in the spring session of the Pennsylvania General Assembly carries on tomorrow, as the state Senate finishes some budget-related matters. The state House has already left town. And there's no truth to the rumor that they were run out of town on a rail. That's not even possible since they didn't invest anything in rail.

In the final weeks of June, all was largely quiet on the civil liberties front at the state capitol. That's a good thing. When the legislature starts screwing with civil liberties, it usually ends badly.

And it did end badly for women's access to reproductive healthcare. On June 17, Governor Corbett signed House Bill 818. This bill prohibits insurance companies from covering abortion care in policies in the insurance exchange, or marketplace, created by the federal healthcare reform law. Narrow exceptions exist only for rape, incest, and imminent death of the woman.

I've been trying to decide which is the most scandalous aspect of this story. Is it the state government meddling in a private transaction between a private company and a private customer, under the flimsy excuse that the exchange is administered by the government? (The federal government, mind you. The Corbett administration opted out of administering the exchange at the state level.) The supporters lamely claim that insurance coverage from Blue Cross is equivalent to Medicaid.

Is it the lack of a health exception that the Senate defeated, 24-26? Some women have serious complications in pregnancy that can lead to health problems but not death and that are best avoided via abortion. If a woman faces that crisis and has insurance through the exchange, sorry, she has to pay out of pocket. Here is how that vote went down.

Or is it the inability of the General Assembly to pass an infrastructure investment and repair bill (author's note: not a civil liberties issue) while finding the time to restrict women's access to comprehensive reproductive healthcare? Hey, a bridge might collapse, but at least they found time to restrict abortion!

Here at ACLU-PA HQ, Harrisburg, we're gearing up for summer work with legislators and staff on revising the child protective services law and revisions to the Right to Know law.

And here's something to look forward to in the fall: A storm is brewing over privacy and mass data collection, specifically in legislation to collect DNA from people who have not been convicted of a crime and to create a new database of Pennsylvanians' prescription drug use. These are issues where ACLU-PA gets to flex its nonpartisan cred by working with Republicans and Democrats who recognize that we do not want to go down the road of a Total Information Society.

So our legislators are (almost) out of here for the summer. They can enjoy their recess with the knowledge that their constituents will think of them everytime they bounce off a pothole in the middle of state route (fill in the blank). And we can rest assured that civil liberties are safe for the next two months. See you in September....

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