After emotional floor debate, abortion bill passes Pa. Senate

    Abortion rights activist demonstrate at the state Capitol in Harrisburg

    Abortion rights activist demonstrate at the state Capitol in Harrisburg

    A contentious abortion bill passed Pennsylvania’s Senate Wednesday after hours of passionate debate.

    Senate Bill 3 would make abortions illegal after 20 weeks of gestation, narrowing the threshold from the current 24 weeks with some exceptions for cases in which the health or survival of the mother is at stake. It would also significantly limit use of a common abortion procedure medically known as dilation-and-evacuation.

    Medical experts have raised serious concerns about the bill. Legal onus for failing to follow the law would fall on the physicians who perform the banned procedures.

    Chief sponsor Sen. Michele Brooks, R-Crawford, centered her Senate floor testimony around graphic descriptions of a procedure she called “dismemberment abortion.”

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    “Currently in Pennsylvania, a live, 6-month-old fetus can be ripped apart and left to bleed to death,” she told a Democratic opponent of the bill.

    But representatives from nonpartisan medical organizations such as the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists have said those claims are inflammatory and not based in fact.

    In a statement, the organization said the bill “sets a dangerous precedent by criminalizing medical practices, and prohibiting doctors from using their professional expertise to provide the best, evidenced based care to their patients.”

    Philadelphia OB-GYN Thomas Dardarian added that “the term ‘dismemberment’ is not a medical term. [It’s a] term to rile up the public.”

    Dardarian said the procedure Brooks is referring to, dilation-and-extraction, doesn’t cause pain to the fetus.

    “At 24 weeks, the fetus’s neurons are not intact, and there is scientific data to that point,” he said. “The other thing they don’t really tell you is that when this procedure is done, the women are taken to the operating room and they’re given a general anesthetic. They’re asleep. And that anesthetic does reach the fetus as well.”

    Dardarian added that dilation-and-evacuation is unquestionably the safest abortion technique. He said alternative methods, such as inducing labor, can cause complications for mothers’ physical — and often, mental — health.

    “It just — it’s cruel and unusual punishment to do this to a woman,” he said.

    The tensest moment of the floor debate came when Sen. Lisa Baker, R-Luzerne, broke party lines to oppose the bill, citing her own late-term pregnancy complications.

    “This bill could compound the suffering of individuals who are going through the worst moments a mother can experience,” Baker said in her floor remarks, her voice breaking.

    The bill’s sponsors have declined to hold public hearings. It now goes on to the House, where a version of the same bill saw success last session.

    Gov. Tom Wolf has said he would veto any version of  the legislation that reaches his desk.

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