HARRISBURG — Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf on Monday vetoed a bill passed by the Republican-controlled Legislature that would have limited abortions to the first 20 weeks of pregnancy and, according to opponents, outlawed the most common method of second-trimester abortion.
Wolf, who supports abortion rights, rejected what Planned Parenthood said would have been the nation's most restrictive abortion law.
He signed the veto paperwork in a public ceremony in Philadelphia City Hall, calling the bill "a disingenuous and bald-faced attempt to pass the most extreme anti-choice legislation in the country."
"This legislation is an attempt to criminalize the decisions that women must be allowed to make about their own health care," Wolf told the crowd. "This legislation is so extreme it does not even include exceptions for women and girls who are victims of rape and incest."
The primary feature of the bill would have banned elective abortions after 20 weeks from a pregnant woman's last menstrual period, compared with 24 weeks in current law.
The 20-week limit would have kept in place exceptions under current law for when a mother's life or well-being is at risk, but it had no exceptions for rape, incest or fetal abnormalities. Nineteen states have a similar ban, according to the nonprofit Guttmacher Institute, a research group that supports abortion rights.
The Pennsylvania bill's sponsor, state Sen. Michele Brooks, said a baby can survive outside the womb before 24 weeks, thanks to advances in technology, and laws must catch up.
Brooks, a Crawford County Republican, said she was disappointed the state "will be unable to protect so many babies in the future, who will never know the joy of living."
The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists reports that delivery before 23 weeks of gestation typically results in death and, among the rare survivors, practically all have significant morbidity.
Statistics published by the state Department of Health show there were 380 abortions done after week 20 in 2015, the latest year for which data is available. There were 31,818 abortions in total that year in Pennsylvania.
The bill also would have effectively banned dilation-and-evacuation, the most common method of second-trimester abortion, opponents said. Two states have similar bans, while laws in six other states are on hold in courts, according to the Guttmacher Institute.
Brooks contended that the bill does not ban the procedure, but rather, the fetus must first be injected by saline to cause its death. There were 1,588 dilation-and-evacuation abortions in Pennsylvania in 2015, according to state statistics.
The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists says there is no evidence that inducing fetal death makes second-trimester abortions safer, and opponents question whether such an injection makes it less safe for the mother.
The bill was opposed by the Pennsylvania Medical Society and the Pennsylvania section of the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.