Yesterday, Pennsylvania House Republicans began putting what could be one of the country’s most restrictive abortion bans on the legislative fast-track with very little public notice or input. The forced-birthing bill, House Bill 1948, was introduced last Friday and voted out of the House Health Committee by a 16-10 margin with two Democrats voting in favor. It is expected to have a full House vote on Wednesday. The bill has the support of ten House Democrats and given the majorities Republicans hold in the House and Senate, only a handful of Democrats would be needed from both chambers to override a would be veto if it reaches Governor Wolf’s desk.
The 20 week abortion ban is part of a coordinated effort by one of the largest anti-choice organizations to chip away at women’s reproductive rights in state houses around the country, and, oh, did we forget to me mention that the bill’s origin has a connection to the vast web of money coming from the network of organizations funded by David and Charles Koch?
At yesterday’s hearing, a vote to decide if the Health Committee should hold a public hearing that allows the public to submit public input on the legislation failed by a 13-13 tie. The bill labels all abortions after 20 weeks as “dismemberment” or “pain capable” abortions and would ban all procedures after twenty weeks and penalizes doctors who perform the abortion. The only exceptions to the ban are to save the life of the mother or prevent “substantial and irreversible impairment of major bodily function of the woman.” Planned Parenthood Pennsylvania points out that the bill would ban abortions in the case of “rape, incest, health or tragic anomalies.” Last week, a woman in Texas was forced to give birth to a stillborn fetus because of legislation similar to Representative Rapp’s bill.
Rewire, a non-profit online publication dedicated to investigating sexual assault and reproductive health, rights and justice issues, demonstrates that bills like Pennsylvania’s HB 1948 and Texas’ HB 2 are part of a national effort to ban abortions after 20 weeks in state legislatures around the country. According to the organization, “the most popular legislative model banning abortion at 20 weeks is the ‘Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act’” that is based on “model legislation authored by the National Right to Life Committee.”
Representative Rapp’s co-sponsor memo for House Bill 1948 used the NRLC’s “pain-capable” argument to garner support from her colleagues. According to the memo, Rapp claims there is growing scientific evidence that proves fetuses can begin to feel pain up at 20 weeks. Legislation that has been introduced in 2016 and that is similar to Rapp’s bill can be found in Idaho, South Dakota, New Hampshire and more, but FactCheck’s “Science Check” gathered a number of medical journals that has disproved the claim.
The National Right to Life Committee operates in similar fashion to the American Legislative Exchange Council, the legislative paper mill that is funded by the Koch Brothers and pushes corporate friendly, pro-business, free market reforms in state governments around the country. The organization drafts forced-birthing bills, distributes them throughout the country and begins to rack up legislative victories.
In 2010, the NRLC achieved its first legislative victory with the “Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection” model legislation becoming law and in 2009, the organization received a modest $25,000 donation from the Center to Protect Patient Rights, an organization that fell within the Koch Brother web. The Center to Protect Patient Rights, which is now named American Encore, was an astrotrurf organization launched in the opposition to Obamacare that had a history of funneling money from Freedom Partners to anti-choice organizations or groups against providing women birth control. The money given to Nebraska for Life may seem small, but political and campaign cash goes further dollar-for-dollar on the state level than the national level.
Since Nebraska passed it’s abortion ban, “two Koch-connected tax-exempt organizations have reported distributing more than $200 million to other socially conservative organizations,” ThinkProgress reports. Money from these Koch linked organizations has gone to groups that are pro-Dominionism and against reproductive and LGBTQ rights.
Organizations within the Koch Brother web have directly influenced policy in Pennsylvania through groups like the Commonwealth Foundation or Americans for Prosperity or they have indirectly effected policy in the Commonwealth through supporting model legislation that has originated in other conservative outposts.