WEST CHESTER — The County Board is looking at the big picture and the national issue of abortion after the Supreme Court’s recent overturning of Roe v. Wade.
At a July meeting, Councilman Brian McGinnis proposed that the council pass an ordinance ordering the West Chester Police Department not to enforce future laws regarding a woman’s right to choose and abortion. The only Planned Parenthood offices in Chester County that offer abortions and counseling are in the area.
Resident Jim Salvas addressed the council at last week’s meeting with a different tact, seeking to preserve women’s rights for those seeking abortions. He suggested letting voters decide in a referendum.
McGuinness immediately shifted gears and withdrew his request for an ordinance in support of the proposed voter referendum.
Voters can respond to a proposed ballot question supporting women’s reproductive rights as soon as the spring 2023 primary.
In order for a question to be placed on the ballot, at least 10 percent of the signatures of voters in the last gubernatorial election must be collected or a simple council vote for voters to change the home rule charter under Pennsylvania law.
“They should exercise their options by whatever means necessary to protect women’s rights,” Salvas said Tuesday of the City Council.
Salvas said a lower body usually cannot overrule a higher government body.
“They’re not canceling anything,” Salvas said. “It could potentially come into conflict with the people of the state … and they could sort it out in court.”
McGuinness initially issued an executive order preventing police from enforcing abortion laws. His proposal likely gave Mayor Lilian Debatiste, who oversees the police, a decision.
“Let’s let the voters decide on the referendum,” McGinnis said. “I believe the West Chester community can send a powerful message in support of women’s reproductive rights,” McGinnis said.
De Baptiste said Tuesday that she has always supported women’s reproductive rights.
Councilwoman Lisa Dorsey noted at last week’s meeting that abortion is still legal in Pennsylvania.
At the August meeting, Debatist presented the mayor’s resolution.
“As mayor of West Chester County, I support laws to provide the reproductive health services that every person believes they need, regardless of government intervention or interference,” the resolution reads.
She also wrote that the West Chester Police Department will continue to enforce laws in place in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to ensure access to reproductive health services for women who request such assistance while in the West Chester area.
State laws evolve and change in response to the Supreme Court’s decision. Some fear that other states could prevent their residents from crossing state lines to get counseling or abortions in Pennsylvania.
The debater also wrote that West Chester police must deny any requests from any other agencies or states that issue arrest or extradition warrants because of another state’s reproductive health laws unless they have been charged with a felony under Pennsylvania law. .
State Sens. Carolyn Comita, D-!9th of West Chester, and Diane Herrin, D-156th of West Chester, received an Aug. 16 letter signed by five members of the council on protecting women’s reproductive health.
“This personal and private decision should be made only by the person and, if necessary, their health care provider,” the letter said. “As a Council, we oppose legislation that threatens full access to reproductive health and support efforts to protect and expand safe, legal and affordable care.”
The majority of the council is in favor of passing the law by the Committee.
This legislation is being introduced by seven members of the Pennsylvania Senate Democratic Caucus: Senator Comitto, Senator Kathy Muth, Senator Amanda Cappelletti, Senator Lindsey Williams, Senator Maria Collette, Judy Schwank and Christine Tartaglione.
“Steps are being taken to codify in state law the right of individuals to make health and reproductive decisions, including access to safe and legal abortions,” said a release issued by the Committee’s office staff.
“While abortion currently remains safe and legal in Pennsylvania, we must take steps to ensure it remains so,” Comitto said Tuesday. “In overturning Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court showed how fragile protections for women’s health, women’s rights, and women’s choices are.
“Codifying these protections into law is a matter of representing the majority of Pennsylvania voters who believe that these personal and private health care decisions should remain between women and their doctors.”
Comitta also noted that some of the same procedures prohibited by the abortion ban are not used exclusively for elective abortions. These include: safe procedures for those suffering from miscarriages; safe treatment of those experiencing an ectopic pregnancy; safe and legal infertility treatment; safe and affordable postpartum and delivery care; and safe and effective methods of contraception.
On Tuesday, Herrin posted a comment: “I greatly appreciate the majority council’s position in support of reproductive freedom, and they are right that the fate of our reproductive rights now rests with the state. The recent politically motivated Supreme Court decision and laws taking effect in other states are not only harmful, but deadly, and put doctors in an untenable position.”
“I support Sen. Committee’s bill, and we could do more to address this problem if the Republican leadership in Harrisburg were willing to put their money where their mouth is. The number of abortions is directly related to economic status; yet, our majority legislature will not even consider passing a living wage. We have a childcare crisis, but we are doing little to address it. We have people who can’t take their kids to the doctor because they don’t have insurance; we do nothing. As Bill Clinton said, our real goal should be to make abortion safe, legal and rare, not to continue playing politics with people’s lives.’