GOP’s Metcalfe moves to axe Planned Parenthood funding in Pa.

Posted: May 24, 2012

HARRISBURG — Even as some Republicans try to steer policy initiatives toward bread-and-butter economic issues in advance of the November elections, a small band of GOP lawmakers in Harrisburg tacked rightward Wednesday, introducing a bill to defund Planned Parenthood in Pennsylvania.

The legislation, similar to antiabortion bills crafted in other states, would bar all federal and state funding to the nonprofit, which provides abortions along with an array of other women’s health services.

“Regardless of their position on abortion, Pennsylvania taxpayers must no longer be forced to subsidize the loss of innocent lives,” said the bill’s chief sponsor, State Rep. Daryl Metcalfe (R., Butler). He was flanked at a news conference by five other lawmakers and several leaders of Pennsylvania antiabortion groups.

Metcalfe said the bill, titled the “Whole Women’s Health Funding Priorities Act,” would not reduce overall levels of public funding for women’s health services, but would “prioritize” the funding so that hospitals, health centers, and other clinics would receive money first.

Representatives for House Majority Leader Mike Turzai (R., Allegheny) and Gov. Corbett said neither had seen the bill and had no comment. Past efforts by Metcalfe to cut off Planned Parenthood’s funding have failed in the General Assembly.

House Democrats swiftly decried the proposal as an attack on women’s rights and women’s health.

“This proposal is just the latest attempt by abortion opponents to effectively ban this legal procedure in the state,” said Rep. Tim Briggs (D., Montgomery). “They don’t care that it also will leave thousands more women who are not seeking an abortion without access to regular and affordable gynecological care.”

Planned Parenthood, which operates 42 clinics statewide, receives both federal and state funding, though the agency is barred by law from using state funds for abortion services. The state funds are used to support other health services such as mammograms, cancer screenings, and birth control for lower income women, according to Sari Stevens, executive director of Planned Parenthood PA. Overall support for the organization is divided among federal and state funding, primarily through Medicaid, private insurance, and individual patient payments.

Last year Planned Parenthood provided health services to 120,000 Pennsylvanians, fewer than 4 percent of them seeking abortions, Stevens said.

Abortion-rights proponents say the Metcalfe-backed measure is the latest in a series of attempts by antiabortion forces to curtail abortion services in Pennsylvania, starting after a grand jury’s gruesome revelations about goings-on at the West Philadelphia clinic run by Kermit Gosnell, now facing trial on murder charges in the deaths of a woman and six full-term babies. The Gosnell scandal led to legislation that requires abortion clinics to meet the same standards for surgical care as hospitals.

Earlier this year, a group of House lawmakers introduced the “Women’s Right to Know Act,” a bill that would force women seeking an abortion to undergo an ultrasound of the unborn baby before the procedure. That bill has yet to reach a floor vote.

Last year, six other state legislatures stripped Planned Parenthood of public funding. Courts in each of those states except Wisconsin have since determined that those laws were unconstitutional and have temporarily blocked them. Other states have dropped similar proposals, and four — Kansas, Oklahoma, Ohio, and Michigan — are still weighing similar bills. In New Jersey, Gov. Christie last year blocked Democrats’ efforts to fund Planned Parenthood in that state.

Contact Amy Worden at 717-783-2584 or aworden@phillynews.com or follow @inkyamy on Twitter.

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