As journalists and camera crews from all around Pennsylvania were rushing through the Capitol getting ready Governor Wolf’s third budget address, House Republicans and Democrats from the Pro-Life Caucus were meeting on the fourth floor above the capitol rotunda discussing the country’s least transparent and most restrictive 20 week abortion ban. A tip about the caucus’ meeting came into the Raging Chicken Press Monday afternoon, and Pennsylvania House Speaker Mike Turzai confirmed that the caucus met as he was leaving closed door meeting. Speaker Turzai refused to answer questions about the process in which this bill is being rushed through the legislature and its lack of transparency. Senate President Jake Corman, who was not at the caucus meeting, also refused to answer questions after Governor Wolf presented his budget address.
The 20 week abortion ban was reintroduced as Senate Bill 3 by State Senator Michele Brooks at the beginning of the session, and it closely resembles Representative Kathy Rapp’s abortion ban from the previous session. The bill was referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee late Friday afternoon, and voted out of committee yesterday with little to no public input. Senate Republicans held the committee meeting in one chamber’s smallest rooms where broadcasting the hearing was not possible. To broadcast the hearing and vote, Democratic staffers livestreamed and live-tweeted the event. A full vote on the Senate floor is expected tomorrow.
Last year we reported that Representative Rapp’s abortion ban was related to other 20 week abortion bans that were pursued in states like Idaho, South Dakota, New Hampshire and more. These bills are related to the “pan-capable unborn child protection” model bills authored by the National Right to Life Committee. During last year’s debate, Representative Rapp told City and State that “we started looking at what’s going on across the nation as far as pro-life issues” when the 2015-2016 session began.
After this morning’s meeting, Kathy Rapp, the Pro-Life Caucus chair, explained that today’s meeting was a legislative meeting, and that there will be a meeting in the future where they hope to “invite some members of the public.” When asked why there was not a public meeting on the issue last year, Rapp said that “as legislators, this issue has people who stand very strongly on both sides of the issue. So. If we had a public meeting I don’t think that you know ‘are we going to change people’s minds on this issue?’ I’m not sure.” Rapp denied that the bills in question were model bills from the National Right to Life Committee and stated that she was unaware about the status of Senate Bill 3.
Demonstrators from the Tuesdays with Toomey protest filed into the capitol rotunda just as Governor Wolf was finishing his budget address. The protesters took to the rotunda steps as legislators were giving their budget responses to the media and began chanting “NO ON SB3!” and dueling “her body her choice!” and “my body, my choice!” chants. The demonstrators were then joined by House Representative Brian Sims and State Senator Art Haywood, both of whom took part in the chanting.