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Pa. takes early steps to enshrine abortion rights in constitution

  • Ben Wasserstein/WITF
The Harrisburg state capitol building on Jan. 3, 2023.

 Jeremy Long / WITF

The Harrisburg state capitol building on Jan. 3, 2023.

Lawmakers are considering amending the state constitution to protect reproductive rights.

The House Judiciary Committee held its first hearing Wednesday to discuss the effort .

The proposal is similar to one voters passed in Ohio in November.

While abortion is legal in Pennsylvania, the path toward a constitutional amendment would be difficult. A bill would need to pass both chambers, and the Republican-controlled Senate is not likely to support the amendment. From there, a majority of voters would need to support it as a referendum.

The legislation was proposed by Reps. Danielle Friel Otten, D-Chester, and Liz Hanbidge, D-Montgomery.

Hanbridge cited the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision in 2022, which overturned Roe v. Wade, as a reason to protect abortion rights.

“Abortion is now banned in almost half of America, and in many states, it’s banned almost immediately after fertilization,” she said. That is often before a woman even knows she’s pregnant.

“This has left women across the country without safe and legal options for ending a pregnancy, created a class system regarding who can and cannot afford reproductive health care access, and imperiled the lives of countless women.”

Testifying before the committee was Meghan Orbich.

She endured pregnancy complications leading to an extended stay in the hospital before the birth of her son.

He did survive and is now a pre-teen but lives with a tracheostomy and requires a 24-hour caregiver.

Orbich said the risk of losing Pennsylvania’s abortion law is too high at the moment.

“We need to bring this to the voters and ensure that regardless of the makeup of the legislature the days of a veto determining the freedom of choices for Pennsylvanians when it comes to reproductive care are over,” she said.

Elizabeth Kirk is director of the Center for Law and the Human Person at the Columbus School of Law at The Catholic University of America.

She warned the wording of the amendment could be used to reverse current abortion laws if not crafted carefully.

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