Proposed amendment states no right to taxpayer-funded abortions

Rep. Donna Oberlander, R-Clarion, speaks on the House floor during a November session.

A Clarion County Republican is calling for a state constitutional amendment making it clear there is no right to abortions or public funding for abortions in Pennsylvania.

House Bill 2252, sponsored by Rep. Donna Oberlander, R-Clarion, is spurred by Allegheny Reprod. Health Ctr. v. Pa. Dep’t of Human Servs., a lawsuit against the state Human Services Department claiming the state’s Medicaid abortion coverage ban implemented in 1985 violates the Equal Rights Amendment and equal protection provisions of the state constitution.

Oberlander’s bill has already attracted more than 60 co-sponsors, including Rep. Kathy Rapp, R-Warren. It has been referred to the House Health Committee, chaired by Rapp.

Pennsylvania’s Commonwealth Court ruled in March 2021 to uphold previous court rulings and restrict the use of public funds to pay for abortion procedures except for under specific circumstances.

“While all eyes are on the U.S. Supreme Court, we must remember that Pennsylvania’s Constitution explicitly guarantees equality on the basis of sex and prohibits laws that confer different burdens or benefits on men and women,” said Susan J. Frietsche, Women’s Law Project attorney, when the case was filed in 2019. “This case is an opportunity for the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania to put into practice a central promise of our state constitution by ending the discriminatory ban on Medicaid coverage of abortion and affirming the right to safe, legal abortion care.”

Oberlander wrote in her legislative memorandum that the lawsuit could result in stark changes to the state’s abortion laws, including essentially forcing the legislature to appropriate additional money to cover expected procedures. Oberlander, and local state senators Michele Brooks and Scott Hutchinson are among the 26 state legislators who won approval from the court to intervene in the case.

“In order to prevent Pennsylvania’s abortion laws from being struck down, I am proposing a simple amendment to the Pennsylvania Constitution clarifying that there is no right to an abortion or abortion funding within Pennsylvania’s constitution,” Oberlander wrote in her legislative memorandum. “This amendment is designed to maintain our laws regulating abortion and preventing the taxpayer funding of elective abortion and to allow Pennsylvania to continue to enact pro-life laws that are vital to protecting the life and health of women and their pre-born children.”

Oberlander points to laws that have been passed in Tennessee (2014), West Virginia (2018), Alabama (2018) and Louisiana (2020) as well as legislation introduced in Iowa and Kansas as a reason for the legislature to take action. The bill text itself is short — “The policy of Pennsylvania is to protect the life of every unborn child from conception to birth, to the extent permitted by the Constitution of the United States. Nothing in this Constitution grants or secures any right relating to abortion or the public funding of abortion. Nothing in this Constitution requires taxpayer funding of abortion.”


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