What You Need to Know about the PA Senate SB3 Debate

After three hours of debate that included explicitly rejecting an opportunity to hear from doctors and the public, the Pennsylvania Senate passed Senate Bill 3 by a vote of 32 to 18, in defiance of medical opposition and amid public outcry.

Did your Senator vote for SB3? Check here.

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Sen. Michele Brooks is the primary sponsor of Senate Bill 3

SB3 is Confusing and Unclear. Many attempts were made to clarify the intention of Senate Bill 3, and what implementing a law with such an extraordinary level of political interference into doctor’s office would look like.

This task is challenging given the unprecedented nature of the legislation—no other state has implemented this law—and because the bill’s language relies on made-up propaganda phrases (“dismemberment abortion”) and neglects to define the main exception.

The Bill Does Not Tell Doctors What Counts as an Exception. SB3 has no exceptions for rape, incest or severe fetal anomaly.

Under threat of felony arrest, the only exceptions offered in the bill are the woman’s death, and “substantial and irreversible impairment of a major bodily function of the woman.”

Sen. Daylin Leach, who voted against SB3, asked primary sponsor Senator Michele Brooks to define “major bodily function” several times. He asked if permanent sterility, for example, qualified as “major bodily function” and therefore counted as an exception under the law.

Brooks did not answer the question.

SB3 is on the Fast Track. SB3 was referred to Committee on Friday, Feb. 3, passed in Committee on Monday, Feb. 6, and passed in the Senate on Wednesday, Feb. 8.

The Bill’s Supporters Are Divided About Whether It Will Criminalize D&E Procedures. On Monday, when SB3 was voted through the Senate Judiciary Committee, a supporter argued it did not ban dilation and evacuation, a standard, safe procedure used in both first- and second- trimester abortion.

Yesterday, supporters argued that the legislation does intend to ban D&E procedure, except in the cases of post-miscarriage treatment. It also remains unclear how a physician would defend him or herself when investigated, even though SB3 invites police to investigate physicians for providing standard care.

The Increased Medical Risk SB3 Forces Doctors to Inflict on Patients Was Unexamined and Disregarded. Senator Brooks, a politician with no medical background, listed abortion procedures that her legislation will allow physicians use on patients in order to try to avoid investigation and/or arrest.

When asked, Brooks could not provide complication rates for these alternate methods in order to compare to D&E.

A Female Republican Senator Opposing SB3 Shared Her Personal Story. Senator Lisa Baker is one of three Republicans who did not vote for SB3 and one of only 7 women in the entire Pennsylvania Senate. While speaking out against the bill, Senator Baker shared a devastating story of giving birth of a stillborn daughter.

“For weeks I rode the roller coaster of receiving good and bad news … tests that were conducted over a 7-week period,” said Baker. “[The doctor] said there was a 1 in 125,000 chance of having this result detected in an amniocentesis test. Needless to say, I couldn’t catch my breath. This couldn’t be happening to my family. My husband and I were in shock and disbelief…. I was planning for a nursery, never expecting to plan a funeral.”

Sen. Baker pleaded with her colleagues to reconsider their support for SB3.

“Has everyone taken the time to talk to a mother who has received this devastating news?”

 “Has anyone looked at the list of lethal defects that are not detectable until [after 19 weeks]?”

 “Why are we moving something so consequential so quickly?”

 “Are we going to take into account the impossible choices these individuals confront?”

For the majority of Baker’s colleagues and one Democrat, Senator Jim Brewster (D-Allegheny/Westmoreland), the answer was no.

Pennsylvania Lawmakers Are Trying to Silence Doctors. The consensus among medical and public health experts is strong opposition to SB3.

Since doctors have been locked out of the process, they are working on alternate ways to express opposition and warn the public about the medical dangers of SB3.

At the session yesterday, critics of the bill read parts of a letter signed by 78 doctors opposing SB3 in order to enter medical testimony into the record. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, Pennsylvania Medical Society, Physicians for Reproductive Health, and many more physicians have issued statements strongly opposing this legislation.

Pennsylvania Lawmakers Are Denying the Public Any Say. Pennsylvania lawmakers voted against public hearings at least twice last session when considering House Bill 1948, last session’s version of SB3.

That trend is continuing this session. On Monday, the GOP majority of the Senate Judiciary Committee voted against a motion submitted by Sen. Larry Farnese to allow public hearings in order to hear from doctors and Pennsylvania women.

Yesterday, they voted against a public hearing again.

Sen. Brooks Argues Noting No Rape Exception “Exploits” Rape. SB has no exception for victims of rape and incest of any age.

Children and teens may not know or recognize the signs of pregnancy, or may fear having their parents finding out about the assault and pregnancy. Women with unsupportive or abusive partners may pregnancy to hide a sexual assault by another person.

Sen. Brooks argued that despite the lack of exceptions for rape victims, pointing out the lack of exception exploits the “hideous” crime of rape, and rape victims.

Have Questions and Concerns About SB3? Send Them to Us. Pennsylvania lawmakers have repeatedly shut down opportunities for the Pennsylvanians affected by SB3, but they are still speaking up and asking questions.

If you have a question, story or statement about SB3, please submit to Tara Murtha at tmurtha@womenslawproject.org. We will collect them and send appropriate statements, share them with lawmakers who do want to hear from constituents, and try to submit them onto the record. Please provide your complete name and town or city if you want your statement shared publicly.

You can also tweet questions about comments to #AskMicheleSB3, a hashtag launched after primary sponsor Sen. Brooks failed to appear to answer questions about SB3 during the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing.

Next: SB Heads to the Pennsylvania House

The House reconvenes in March. Stay tuned.

The Women’s Law Project is the only public interest law center in Pennsylvania devoted to advancing the rights of women and girls.

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The Women's Law Project creates a more just and equitable society by advancing the rights and status of all women throughout their lives. To this end, we engage in high-impact litigation, advocacy, and education.
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