So here’s another reason why it’s important to pay attention in what happens in your state capital.
Last week, two Pennsylvania state lawmakers — both Republicans — fired the opening rounds of the 2019 culture war, announcing plans to reintroduce legislation that would ban abortion based on a diagnosis of Down syndrome.
Plan for the same volley of press conferences and overheated rhetoric, with more than likely the same result: a vote, possible approval by Pennsylvania’s majority-GOP state House, followed by likely inaction by the Republican-controlled Senate in the face of an all-but-guaranteed veto from Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf.
Even so, the bill is a reminder that the real arena in the fight over abortion rights continues to be state capitals across the land.
Pennsylvania House Speaker Mike Turzai and his allies made a splash last year when they introduced the bill for the first time. They filled the main staircase in the Capitol rotunda with parents and children who are living with Down syndrome.
They also featured Karen Gaffney, an accomplished swimmer and public speaker, who’s the first person with Down syndrome to ever receive an honorary doctorate from a college or university.
The parents and Gaffney argued passionately that people with Down syndrome often lead vibrant and productive lives. And they argued that aborting Down syndrome babies was opening the door to eugenics.
The optics were compelling. The problem is that it was exactly the wrong argument to have.
Last year, no one was talking about a prohibition on bringing Down syndrome babies to term. No one is saying people born with Down syndrome can’t go on to lead rich and happy lives. And raising the specter of eugenics was just a blatant scare tactic and deliberate play for the heartstrings.
What we were talking about then — and will debate again this year — is another attempt by anti-choice lawmakers, who can’t get their way in court and who were recently dealt yet another defeat in the U.S. Supreme Court, to find a way to legislate a constitutionally protected medical procedure out of existence.
Let’s get this out of the way right away: The kind of invasive bill that Turzai and his Republican colleagues want to forcibly deliver into law this year is most likely unconstitutional, practically unenforceable, and undeniably hypocritical.
Similar ban bills brought up in other states have been dealt legal defeat after legal defeat. Last April, a federal appeals court judge declared unconstitutional an Indiana law that would have banned women from having abortions because of the gender, race, or disability (including Down syndrome).
The decision by the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago said the 2016 ban on “selective” abortions, signed into law by then-Gov. Mike Pence, was an “undue burden” on the ability to have the procedure, Reuters reported.
To make this law work, someone would have to prove that a woman sought an abortion based on a Down syndrome. That would require a woman’s physician to violate doctor-patient privilege by disclosing confidential medical information. You’d also have to get a woman to admit that she sought an abortion based on that diagnosis, which seems incredibly unlikely.
And now for the hypocritical part. As interested as abortion opponents have been in meddling in reproductive rights, hard experience has shown they have proven equally unwilling to provide expectant and new mothers with the support services they need to raise healthy children.
Given the multitude of challenges facing Pennsylvania — from finding more money for workforce development programs and reinvigorating the state’s infrastructure to finally passing a higher minimum wage — it’s perfectly reasonable to ask why these Republicans are mounting this fight when they know exactly how it will end.
The answer is that there’s no reasonable answer. But we’re going to go through it again anyway.
Your tax dollars at work, folks.