Changes to Abortion Laws in Other States to Affect PA Clinics

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By: Giulia Schaub, Blog Editor

Women’s reproductive health once again dominates state and national news as the endless debate concerning abortion restrictions rages on in both legislative bodies and media outlets alike. Thus far in 2019, nine states have passed legislation that place major restrictions on a woman’s right to legal abortion.[1] Although Pennsylvania governor Tom Wolf has assured PA residents he would not sign any legislation altering the state’s current abortion laws, PA women’s health clinics will nevertheless feel the effects of neighboring states’ changing laws, specifically Ohio’s. In addition to these effects, Pennsylvania will also directly experience the impact if the debate falls into the hands of the Supreme Court.[2]

Anti-abortion groups understand that House bills aimed at restricting abortion rights will likely be halted by federal judges.[3] However, with the confirmation of Justice Brett Kavanaugh in October of 2018, the current Court is the friendliest court to the anti-abortion movement that this country has seen in decades. The enactment of such state laws could pave the way to the eventual overturning of Roe v. Wade.[4]

In April of 2019, Ohio Governor Mike DeWine signed the ‘heartbeat bill,’ which prohibits a woman from having an abortion once the heartbeat of a fetus is detected, roughly six weeks into pregnancy.[5] Ohio’s bill allows exceptions only if the woman’s life is endangered by the pregnancy; no exception exists for instances of rape or incest.[6] Pro-choice activist groups strongly oppose laws that would limit the timeframe in which a woman may have an abortion, chiefly because most women do not know that they are pregnant at such an early stage.[7]

The Ohio bill was set to go into effect on July 11. However, Judge Michael Barnett of the Southern District of Ohio barred it while he considers a lawsuit that challenges the measure filed by Planned Parenthood and American Civil Liberties Union.[8] The lawsuit challenges the constitutionality of the bill in its violation of a woman’s right to have a pre-viability abortion, as decided in Roe v. Wade.[9]  Nevertheless, PA clinics are preparing themselves when and if the bill does become Ohio state law.[10]

There are 20 abortion clinics in Pennsylvania, and only two are on the western half of the state: Planned Parenthood of Western Pennsylvania and Allegheny Reproductive Health Center.[11] Because both of these clinics are in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania residents that live far away from the city often find clinics in Ohio that are closer to them.[12] Conversely, Ohio residents that live closer to Pittsburgh usually opt for one of the aforementioned clinics.[13]

In addition to PA and Ohio residents, the Pittsburgh clinics see many residents from West Virginia, whose only clinic is in its capital, Charleston.[14] If the heartbeat bill does become law, the two Western Pennsylvania clinics are predicted to become overwhelmed with patients.[15] Currently, it can take weeks to even schedule an appointment with either clinic, and even longer to schedule an abortion procedure.[16] The waiting list will grow exponentially should this bill be passed.[17]

Despite Governor Wolf’s promise to not support any restrictive abortion laws, other PA lawmakers are inspired by Ohio’s ‘heartbeat’ bill and have proposed their own version of the restrictive laws.[18] Freshman state Sen. Doug Mastriano of Senate District 13 is partnering with State Rep. Stephanie Borowicz to establish a ‘heartbeat’ bill almost identical to Ohio’s, but their bill lacks any exceptions, including an exception for women whose lives are endangered by a pregnancy.[19]

However, in addition to Governor Wolf, it appears that a majority of Pennsylvania lawmakers will fight to preserve the current laws that protect both abortion patients and providers alike. A Commonwealth Court panel recently affirmed the ruling by the Office of Open Records that redacted the names and professional license numbers of abortion providers and their staff abortion-clinic-facility applications.[20] Jean Crocco of the Pro-Life Action League recently attempted to obtain information from the State Department of Health under the Right to Know law.[21] However, the panel ruled that this information fell underneath a personal security exception of this law.[22] Additionally, the panel considered documented threats and attacks on abortion facilities and providers when making its decision.[23] “Allowing the redaction of names, even of private individuals, is rarely permitted” under this law, Judge Robert Simpson of the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court wrote.[24] “However, given the allegations of significant harm to individuals who serve abortion providers in some capacity, application of the security exception is warranted.” [25]




[4] Id.


[6] Id.





[11] Id.

[12] Id.

[13] Id.

[14] Id.

[15] Id.

[16] Id.

[17] Id.


[19] Id.


[21] Id.

[22] Id.

[23] Id.

[24] Id.

[25] Id.

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