HARRISBURG — The Republican-controlled House of Representatives is fast-tracking for a floor vote a controversial bill that would ban abortions based on a diagnosis — or even just a belief — that a fetus has Down syndrome.
The chamber's Health Committee, with no public hearing, kicked the bill out of committee Monday afternoon, and House Republicans said they hope to bring it up for a final vote next week.
The measure calls for prohibiting abortions when they are sought exclusively because of "a prenatal diagnosis of, or belief that the unborn child has, Down syndrome," according to a copy of the bill, championed by House Speaker Mike Turzai (R., Allegheny).
The hour-long discussion mirrored that of many of previous hearings on different abortion bills, with Republicans often talking about their antiabortion stances and Democrats often raising concerns about whether the government should dictate a woman's health decisions. Some legislators shared stories about their own experiences with people with disabilities. Some, in both parties, referenced religion.
Turzai said during Monday's meeting that he views this as "disability rights" legislation and that he was "appalled" after he read news reports about abortions after Down syndrome diagnoses in Iceland.
"How many of us could have been eliminated through abortion because … some segment of the world doesn't think we're good enough? Who are these people to be so judgmental?" he asked rhetorically.
But some Democrats asked how the government could judge what is best for a family when a child could require costly health care for an extended period of time.
State Rep. Mary Jo Daley (D., Montgomery) said, "I do look at this as state-imposed continuation of a pregnancy, which I think is an unconstitutional act, and I'm not really sure why we're even talking about this."
Opponents of the bill include the American Civil Liberties Union and the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.
The measure is bound once again to stir debate over a Republican push to scale back abortion rights, without first hearing from doctors, counselors, families and others who would be most impacted by the change.
It's unclear whether the bill would pass the Republican-controlled Senate, where members of the GOP caucus have not yet discussed it.
Gov. Wolf, a Democrat, opposes the measure. His spokesman, J.J. Abbott, called it "another example of Harrisburg Republicans exploiting the vulnerable families and trying to undermine the doctor-patient relationship to score political points."
The legislature last year pushed through a bill that would have banned abortions starting in the 20th week of pregnancy rather than the 24-week limit under current law. That measure received fierce push back from Democrats and moderate Republicans on the political end, and doctors and obstetricians on the medical side.