Pennsylvania already has several laws on the books that enable physicians and other healthcare employees to refuse to provide certain health care services they find personally objectionable. Such provisions are found within the Religious Freedom Protection Act, the Human Relations Act, and the Abortion Control Act.
Nonetheless, Pennsylvania Senator John Eichelberger plans to re-introduce yet another “conscientious objection” refusal bill. As with all legislation that seemingly duplicates existing law, you have to wonder what this one would really do.
In a memo, Eichelberger explicitly mentions contraception, abortifacients and “chemical” abortion, also known as medical abortion. But Women’s Law Project senior attorney Sue Frietsche says that the bill lacks clear boundaries.
“It would free the hospital janitor from having to clean the hallways leading to the operating room in which an abortion is scheduled to occur,” says Frietsche. Another example: In the event of an abortion covered by Medicaid—which by law would mean the patient was either a rape survivor or in fatal danger–a billing coordinator could refuse to transmit the paperwork to the appropriate department.
As written, Senate Bill 292 eliminates the right of patients to sue for negligent, reckless, or malicious malpractice in the event of damage or death resulting from a provider’s refusal to provide care. For example, a doctor could refuse to terminate the pregnancy of a woman with a life-threatening condition, or to immediately transfer her to a doctor who will provide industry-standard care.
Eichelberger’s legislation appears to be taken directly from the “recommendations” posted for Pennsylvania by Americans United for Life. (AUL).
AUL is a bill factory that drafts much of the anti-choice state legislation popping up simultaneously in state legislatures across the country. “Founded in 1971 … AUL first focused on reversing Roe v. Wade flat out, but in the 1990s it turned its attention to rolling back reproductive rights incrementally at the state level.”
In Pennsylvania, we see more of these “incremental” state bills on the horizon in 2015. While tactics vary, they’re designed to make it impossible for working and poor women to access safe, affordable abortion by forcing clinics to close and driving up the cost of the procedure in a clinic setting. Wealthy women can obtain abortions from private physicians in a hospital setting. By focusing on over-regulating clinics and driving up clinic costs, the incremental strategy makes the fact that abortion is legal irrelevant to working and poor women who can’t afford to obtain one.
Another tactic to reserve constitutional rights for the wealthy is to sever funding streams, real and imagined. In fact, Senator Eichelberger is the sponsor of another bill (Senate Bill 291) that would forbid municipalities from funding abortions. Federal funds have not been used to pay for abortions since the Hyde Amendment initially passed in 1976. Pennsylvania law prohibits the use of state money to pay for abortion services except in cases of rape and threat to the patient’s life.
We’ll keep you posted on both of these bills. We’ll also keep you posted on our proactive efforts to protect reproductive rights and ensure economic security for women. Just this week, Women’s Law Project attorney Amal Bass highlighted four key Pennsylvania Agenda for Women’s Health bills in the Legal Intelligencer.
The Pennsylvania Agenda for Women’s Health is a package of pro-choice bills that protect a woman’s reproductive freedom and promote economic security by eliminating structural discrimination against women and girls.