Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Press Statement on PA Senate Banking and Insurance Committee Vote: SB 3 Abortion Ban

As a follow-up to yesterday's blog on the vote in the Pennsylvania Senate Banking and Insurance Committee vote, here is a copy of the press statement I sent out this morning to media across the state.

In case you use a screen reader and it can't read the graphics, here's the text of the release:

Pennsylvania State Senate Pandering to the Right

Why was this your very first vote of the session?

Bellefonte, PA, January 26, 2011: On Tuesday, January 25, 2011, the PA Senate Banking and Insurance Committee voted out SB 3. This bill, sponsored by Senator Don White (R-Armstrong, Butler, Clearfield, Indiana, and Westmoreland Counties) bans abortion coverage in the health care exchanges except in cases where the pregnancy was caused by rape or incest, or to “avert” the death of the woman.

This was the very first vote any of these Senators cast during the new 2011-2012 legislative session. It was also the only vote taken during this committee meeting. The final vote was 12 (all 9 R's and 3 D's) for and 2 against (both D's).

This bill dramatically changes the status quo. If it becomes law, it will leave women worse off than before federal health care reform took place. Currently between 80 and 87% of all health-insurance plans cover abortions. Banning abortion coverage in the state health insurance exchange would leave women worse off than they were before health care reform began.

Sue Frietsche, Senior Staff Attorney at the Women’s Law Project noted that this bill might also be unconstitutional. In her public statement after the vote, she said, “In the Medicaid context, Pennsylvania courts have already ruled that it’s unconstitutional to make rape survivors jump through the kind of insulting and burdensome hoops this bill would create. The bill would require rape survivors to “personally” report the crime and identify the assailant, if known, in order for their health insurance to cover an abortion procedure.”

What are they thinking!?

Senator White – the prime sponsor as well as chair of this committee -- explained his reason for making this the first vote in committee. He said, “I originally introduced this bill last fall. I’ll admit timing is suspicious. However, I’ve been asked by certain members [of the Senate]- to get this to the floor. I’m not going to wait for the Feds to set the exchanges up. This will be voted on today.”

None of the Senators voting yes explained why they voted yes or why they did not ask for a delay in the vote, even though a couple of them expressed concern about the “seeming rush to vote.” For example, Senator Patricia Vance (R-Cumberland and York Counties) said, “This vote is premature. I’m willing to support the bill but we will just have to do this over once we know how the exchanges will work and how much money is involved [emphasis added].”

Of the two Senators that spoke out against the measure during the hearing, Senator Anthony Williams (D-Delaware and Philadelphia Counties) may have best expressed his frustration. He said, "There are larger issues right now. I would hate to have this as my first vote [of the new session]. This [vote] isn’t on a substantive issue. We should be holding off on these [types of] bills. We may have a testosterone problem here."

This vote is a pandering, political statement. Senators should not be focusing on social, hot-button issues. As Senator Vance and Williams clearly stated, this vote is premature. Pennsylvania voters are not interested in reopening the debate around abortion. Our lawmakers should focus on improving our health care system and stop using women’s health as a divisive issue.

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