Pennsylvania Daily Life

Shown is the Pennsylvania Capitol building along with roses in Harrisburg, Pa., Tuesday, May 23, 2017. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

HARRISBURG — A group of House Republicans have introduced legislation similar to a new law in Iowa that would ban abortions after six weeks.

The legislation, authored by state Rep. Rick Saccone, R-Washington County, would ban abortions after the point at which the heartbeat of the fetus can be detected.

“You may have heard the slogan that ‘Abortion stops a beating heart,’” Saccone wrote in a memo to other lawmakers describing his legislation, but under his proposal “a beating heart will stop abortion.”

Gov. Tom Wolf has already indicated he will veto the legislation if it passes the General Assembly.

The Republicans seeking to challenge him in the general election are divided over whether they would sign the measure if given the chance.

State Sen. Scott Wagner, R-York County, the party-endorsed candidate for governor, would support the legislation, a spokesman for his campaign said Wednesday.

"Scott is pro-life. He has a 100 percent pro-life voting record that has been praised by the Pennsylvania Pro-Life Federation and as governor he would continue to fight for the rights of the unborn, which would include supporting the heartbeat bill," said Wagner’s spokesman, Andrew Romeo.

Laura Ellsworth, one of the two candidates challenging Wagner in Tuesday’s primary, wouldn’t support the measure, according to her campaign. While Ellsworth is anti-abortion, she doesn’t believe the six-week ban in the heartbeat bill would hold up to a constitutional challenge, according to a statement provided by her campaign.

"As governor, I would focus on pro-life legislation that would withstand constitutional challenge, including the existing legislation that bans abortion after 20 weeks and bans abortion in the case of children with Down Syndrome," Ellsworth said in the statement.

The third candidate, Paul Mango, declined to weigh in specifically on the bill because he hasn't had a chance to review the legislation, according to a statement provided by his campaign.

The statement notes that "Paul is committed to fostering a culture of life in the commonwealth of Pennsylvania. He believes life begins at conception and he will vigorously support legislation advancing life."

Saccone’s bill is just the latest in a series of anti-abortion measures that have moved at the Capitol. Last year, Senate Bill 3, which would have barred abortions after 20 weeks, was vetoed by Wolf. Earlier this year, the state House passed legislation that would bar abortions spurred by a diagnosis of Down Syndrome. That measure hasn’t moved in the state Senate yet.

Wolf made it clear that the newest bill would draw his veto pen.

“This new bill is even more extreme than the bill I stopped last year, and I will do everything in my power to stop this dangerous and unconscionable attack on women’s health care,” Wolf said Tuesday.

Abortion rights lobbyists said that while, Wagner at least, has expressed support, it’s unlikely to matter because even if the measure does become law, appeals courts would almost certainly stop it.

“Courts have been pretty clear that abortion bans this extreme are unconstitutional,” said Andy Hoover, a spokesman for the American Civil Liberties Union in Pennsylvania.

Sari Stevens, executive director of Planned Parenthood Pennsylvania Advocates, said that despite the support for other abortion bills in the General Assembly, it’s far from clear that this measure has any traction at the Capitol.

“I suspect it could fail” if it comes up for a floor vote, she said.

A similar measure passed the state Legislature in Ohio in 2016, but was vetoed by Gov. John Kasich, state Democratic Party spokeswoman Beth Melena said.

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds signed a heartbeat bill into law last week, a move that state Rep. Kathy Rapp, R-Warren County, called “bold.”

Rapp leads the House Pro-Life Caucus. She had authored a version of the legislation that would have barred abortions after 20-weeks, but for Wolf’s veto.

The 20-week limit is tied to the notion that fetal pain is possible at that point, she said. The move to ban abortions when a heartbeat is detectable makes sense, Rapp said.

“If we determine death as the point at which a heart stops beating, we should determine life as starting when the heart starts beating,” she said.

But opponents of the bill say that the six-week limit would effectively ban all abortions because hardly any woman knows she’s pregnant before that point, Stevens said.

John Finnerty is the statehouse reporter for CNHI, the parent company of The Daily Item. Email comments to Follow Finnerty on Twitter @cnhipa.

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