Corbett Signs SB732, Called “Back-Door Ban” on Abortion in PA
As expected, Gov. Corbett signed off on SB 732, the controversial abortion bill that critics say will force many if not all of Pennsylvania’s 20 freestanding abortion clinics to close.
Corbett signed the bill despite the fact it lacks the support of medical associations.
SB 732 is one of a series of bills introduced by the Republican-dominated Pennsylvania legislature this year that will restrict access to abortion care. Experts say that nationally, less than 5% of the services provided at clinics are abortion-related, so the bill will likely restrict poor women’s access to routine gynecological care as well.
Andrew Hoover, legislative director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania, calls SB 732 “a real danger” to women’s health in Pennsylvania.
“Clearly, the government chose politics over protecting women’s health,” says Hoover. “No medical associations support this bill. All the supporters were organizations that oppose women’s access to abortion care, and he chose to appease them.”
Hoover points out that SB 732 is the first significant abortion bill passed in Pennsylvania in decades—since 1989, when the Pennsylvania Supreme Court held up the Pennsylvania Abortion Control Act, one of the first comprehensive sets of abortion restrictions in the country.
The crux of SB 732 is that it will require Pennsylvania’s abortion clinics to meet the standards of ambulatory surgical facilities (ASF), which mandates architectural renovations such as wider hallways and elevators.
Critics, including clinic managers, have repeatedly said that the upgrades will not make abortion any safer—already a remarkably safe procedure. (According to state Department of Health records, there were 47 reports of complications out of 37, 284 abortions performed in Pennsylvania in 2009.)
Critics say the new law mandates upgrades that are prohibitively expensive that most if not all clinics will have to either shut down or stop offering abortion services.
Jennifer Boulanger, executive director of the Allentown Women’s Center, points out her clinic provides routine gynecological services, preventative care, cancer screenings, outreach and education, and counseling services.
“All of those [services] are effected with this legislation,” says Boulanger. “Clearly, [Gov. Corbett] doesn’t care about providing safe healthcare services for women in this state.”
“If you look at these ASF regulations they require these large hallways, larger rooms, the purpose behind that is generally is infection control,” says Boulanger. “But abortion procedures has an infection rate of less than one percent. Having a bigger room is not going to change that one percent.”
Even Senator Pat Vance (R-Cumberland/York), original sponsor of the bill, voted against it.
In a letter to Vance, American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) wrote, “The proposed regulations require physical and administrative changes that serve no useful purpose other than to inflict hundreds of thousands of dollars in costs to these centers.”
It’s been widely reported that the bill was prompted by the tragic case of Kermit Gosnell, a local man accused of performing illegal third-trimester abortions and murdering viable babies, among other charges, at his now-shuttered clinic in West Philly. However, as reported by PW, the new law is a strategy lifted directly from tactical memos outlining strategies to “advance … pro-life causes” written before the Gosnell case.
As predicted by reproductive policy experts when the Gosnell story first broke, the bill exploits the horror of the Gosnell case by conflating regulating abortion clinics with restricting access to them.
As Governor Corbett has stated, Gosnell’s crimes were enabled because the Pennsylvania Department of Health did not enforce already-existing laws.
Yet, he signed new the law anyway. Despite the controversy and news coverage, the Governor’s office announced the bill was signed in an obscure round-up press release titled simply, “Governor Corbett Signs 13 Bills Into Law.”
The bill is scheduled to take effect in 180 days.
Kansas passed similar legislation earlier this year but on July 1, the day it was scheduled to take effect, a federal judge issued a preliminary injunction preventing the state from enforcing the new regulations, citing irreparable harm to both clinics and women seeking abortion care.
A spokesperson for the Pennsylvania Department of Health said that the DoH will begin review applications on a case-by-case basis in the coming weeks.