Later on this afternoon, the Pennsylvania House of Representatives is set to vote on one of the country’s most restrictive abortion bans. House Bill 1948 aims to redefine all abortions after twenty weeks as “dismemberment abortions,” and bans the procedure even in the case of rape, incest, if the mother is carrying a fetus with severe birth defects, or if the fetus will be stillborn. The only time an abortion would be allowed after that time period is to prevent the mother from suffering severe complications from a pregnancy gone wrong or to save the mother’s life.
Some in the media have speculated that the abortion ban is a mea-culpa for House conservatives who had to vote for a medical marijuana bill. However, there are currently two bills in the House that could huge financial implications for the Catholic Church and bring thousands of sexual abuse cases into the public domain. There as some who speculate that these bills are the main reason why House Republican leadership is putting women’s reproductive health care rights on the line.
As most of you know, the movie Spotlight shows how a major media outlet – the Boston Globe – had the courage to stand up to the Catholic Church, expose the Church for their role in covering up child sex crimes, and show how the Catholic Church tried to keep these cases out of the courtrooms by making backroom financial settlements. In Pennsylvania, the rights of victims seeking solace for the crimes they were caught up in is now tangled in abortion politics.
State Representatives Mark Rozzi and Ron Marsico are leading a bi-partisan effort aiming to remove or reform the time period a victim of child sexual abuse has to file a civil lawsuit against their perpetrators. This comes in the wake of the grand jury report that exposed 50 priests from the Altoona-Johnstown Diocese. The Post Gazette reported that hundreds of children between the 1940’s and 1980’s were abused by pedophile priests.
State Representative Mark Rozzi introduced House Bill 1913 two weeks after the report was published and heavily criticized the Church for shielding child predators in a co-sponsor memo. His bill would remove all time constraints a victim has to pursue the perpetrator in a civil suit after that victim becomes an adult at the age of 18. Under current law, a victim has 12 years after they turn 18 – or the age of 30 – to pursue such action in civil court. Representative Marsico’s bill is a compromise that would extend the 12 year period to 32 years. This means that victims of child sexual abuse would have until the age of 50, not 30, to file a civil suit against the organization or perpetrators who committed the crime.
Marsico’s bill made it through the House Judiciary Committee by a 26-1 vote last Tuesday, but House leadership pulled the legislation from the Floor and tabled last Wednesday as it is getting ready to make it through the House’s parliamentary process.
Some legislators on the Hill see the obvious horse trading and are concerned about what may be happening behind the scenes. One, willing to speak under the condition of anonymity, told the Raging Chicken Press, “it’s so blatantly political it flies in the face of good government. Here we have an opportunity to provide victims of sexual abuse long overdue support from their government, in exchange Republican leadership would make victims of women in Pennsylvania by severely and unconstitutionally restricting their reproductive rights.”
House Republican Spokesperson Stephen Miskin was asked about the concerns legislators have for the possible horse trading described in the article, and he responded by saying “that is wholly false.”