Foes of abortion see opportunity to make rules stricter

Posted: January 24, 2011

At the 38th anniversary over the weekend of Roe v. Wade, the landmark abortion-rights decision, Michael McMonagle, public affairs director for the Pro-Life Union of Southeastern Pennsylvania, was feeling optimistic.

An influx of antiabortion lawmakers at the state and federal levels holds promise for new curbs on abortion, he said. And last week's sensational arrest of a Philadelphia abortion doctor on murder charges "adds a sense of urgency and makes the issue tangible," he said Saturday, the anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court's still politically polarizing decision to make abortion a right.

"We have a great opportunity in Harrisburg," he said.

Antiabortion activists are to hold their annual rally - March for Life - in Washington on Monday. Cardinal Justin Rigali will lead supporters from this area in the march and was to celebrate Masses for the event on Sunday night and Monday morning, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia announced.

Local antiabortion marches took place in Philadelphia and West Chester over the weekend, McMonagle said.

Meanwhile, Raising Women's Voices, a coalition of 27 organizations, held a rally Friday to highlight the importance of abortion coverage in the new health insurance exchanges required by the 2010 health-care law. Earlier this month, a bill was introduced in the Pennsylvania Senate that would ban coverage for abortions in the exchanges, which are aimed at people who do not get insurance through work or the government, the group said.

NARAL Pro-Choice America Foundation released its annual report this month on abortion-related legislation and laws. It bemoaned the shift toward more "anti-choice" views and said the results of the 2010 elections could pose "serious threats" to women's access to safe abortions.

In a statement, president Nancy Keenan said she hoped newly elected politicians would not see their wins as a mandate for stricter abortion laws when voters actually are focused on the economy.

President Obama said Saturday that he was committed to protecting the constitutional right to an abortion. Obama also said in a statement that he remained committed to policies designed to prevent unintended pregnancies. And he called on Americans to recommit themselves to ensuring that "our daughters have the same rights, the same freedoms, and the same opportunities as our sons to fulfill their dreams."

Dayle Steinberg, president and chief executive officer of Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania, agreed that the political climate is unusually daunting. "It's bad," she said. She added, though, that polls show that most Americans support Roe v. Wade.

McMonagle said he was hoping for changes in state law that would provide greater oversight of physicians who perform abortions and of abortion clinics. He would like to further restrict abortions to pregnancies up to 16 weeks instead of the current 24 weeks. Abortions after that can be done only to protect the life or health of the mother.

He wants women who seek abortions to be required to watch ultrasounds of their fetuses before consenting to the procedure. He said there should be tougher enforcement of rules that require women to wait 24 hours before getting an abortion and to get counseling from a doctor. And, he wants to cut off government family-planning funding to groups that perform abortions, such as Planned Parenthood.

The arrest Wednesday of Philadelphia doctor Kermit Gosnell and the gruesome charge that he delivered live babies in the third trimester and then murdered them by cutting their spinal cords with scissors made abortion front-page news again in this region.

McMonagle said people who oppose abortion are "puzzled" by why people are outraged by Gosnell's alleged actions, but not by "regular" abortion.

"Once you dehumanize the unborn child, what Gosnell is is just a logical extension of the so-called right to choose," he said. "Human rights begin when human life begins."

Steinberg, of Planned Parenthood, said she was especially concerned about legislative attempts to restrict insurance coverage for abortion.

She said Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania would lose $1.7 million a year if a proposal to cut family-planning funding passes. That money is used to subsidize care - it does not include abortions - for poor women who do not qualify for Medicaid. Her agency would have to start charging those women fees, she said.

"It's just going to make it more difficult to see the patients that need us the most," she said.

Forcing patients to watch ultrasounds "just creates more of an emotional burden for most women and really doesn't help to change their mind," she said.

As for stepping up regulation, she said it was a good idea for the state to inspect abortion clinics annually, but that other rules could just increase cost and bureaucracy and heighten barriers for patients.

"It's more restricted than any other medical procedure," she said.


Contact staff writer Stacey Burling at 215-854-4944 or sburling@phillynews.com.

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