As the Pennsylvania General Assembly finished the budget earlier this month, the Senate began to stealthily move Representative Kathy Rapp’s 20 week abortion ban through the upper chamber. The bill, which originally originated in the House Health Committee, would be considered one of the most restrictive abortion bans in the country. It would ban all abortions after 20 weeks and force women to give birth in the cases of rape, incest and medical defect. After the bill cleared the House, it was sent to State Senator Stewart Greenleaf’s Judiciary Committee. What does a 20 week abortion ban have to do with the Commonwealth’s judicial process? Absolutely nothing.
In our previous reporting on House Bill 1948, we talked about Representative Rapp’s abortion ban being linked to another piece of legislation that would allow victims of sexual abuse to sue their abusers decades after the crimes were committed. It would give the victims their day in court and put these crimes on the public record. The Archdiocese of Philadelphia mounted a large campaign against the sexual abuse legislation because of the Catholic Church’s involvement with covering up sexual abuse cases over the decades.
When the sexual abuse bill passed through the House, it was sent to Senator Stewart Greenleaf’s Judiciary Committee. Senator Greenleaf caused a controversy in the chamber when he recused himself from any debate and votes on the sexual abuse bill because a member of his law firm – Elliott Greenleaf – represented the Archdiocese of Philadelphia in civil suits regarding sexual abuse.
Representative Kathy Rapp’s abortion ban legislation was introduced on April 1st, voted out of committee on April 4 and began to go through the process of first, second and third consideration. Once a bill is on third consideration (or the third day of debate) it will go to a floor vote, but it was removed from the table on April 6th and voted on three and a half months later during the budget debate. The bill passed the House by a 132-65 margin with the support of Democratic Whip Mike Hanna and 24 other members from the God, Guns and Labor caucus within the Democratic Party. After that, Senate Leadership placed the bill into Senator Greenleaf’s committee, where there is clearly a conflict of interest between the Senator and the Catholic Church, and passed with a 9-5 vote.
The bill is currently sitting on first consideration in the Senate and it could come up for a possible floor vote and be sent to Governor Wolf’s desk in late September. Governor Wolf has vowed to veto the bill when it comes to his desk.
This is where things get tricky.
Traditionally in election years, the session days in September are the unofficial end to the legislative session because members of the General Assembly are either campaigning or doing absolutely nothing because they are mostly unopposed. However, the state constitution declares November 30 – in even number years – the official end of the legislative session because of the elections and turnover in the legislature. This basically prevents the General Assembly from holding lame duck sessions, but House and Senate leadership have the authority to add session days to the calendar to potentially override the Governor’s veto. Representative Grove pointed out that they’re “pretty close on a veto override in the House” after the passage of the bill thanks in large part to the support coming from the God, Guns and Labor caucus.
There are a lot of “ifs” following this bill, but the way in which Republican Leadership have pursued this bill raises obvious questions of transparency, conflicts of interests and vote trading. The bill was initially fought off and taken off the table due public outcry. It then is voted upon months later under the cover of the budget in the House and passed through a Senate Committee where the committee has nothing to do with legislating public health and the chair has clear conflicts of interest with the Catholic Church and the appearance of trading votes with recusing oneself from previous debates.
Listen to Kevin and I talk about Pennsylvania’s 20 week abortion bill