Legislature approves constitutional amendment proposals on abortion, voter ID

·3 min read

Jul. 9—HARRISBURG — The Pennsylvania Senate and House voted Friday to adopt a package of proposed constitutional amendments including one that if ultimately approved by voters, would install in the state constitution that there is no right to abortion and no right to government funding for elective abortions.

The measure, Senate Bill 106, passed by a margin of 28-22 with one Democrat in favor and two Republicans opposed.

The proposal moved to the state House for concurrence. Late Friday, after sometimes heated debate, the House voted 107-92 to approve the proposal.

Also included in the package is a separate amendment proposal stating that government-issued identification is required to cast a vote, and provides options to acquire a free ID.

Other proposed constitutional amendments seek to allow a party's gubernatorial nominee to select a lieutenant governor candidate, authorize election audits by the auditor general and exempt regulation disapprovals by the Legislature from being presented to the governor for a potential veto.

A governor can't veto bills proposing constitutional amendments, a sticking point in the arguments on constitutional amendments between legislative Democrats and Republicans.

The former accuse the latter of circumventing the legislative process with a series of amendment proposals. Republicans, however, say Gov. Tom Wolf's use of vetoes necessitates actions by amendments because the two sides can't work together.

Republican state Sen. Judy Ward first put forward the proposed amendment on abortion through Senate Bill 956. That language was amended into the multi-pronged package late Thursday.

The proposed amendment concerning abortion isn't a ban on its own, but it would strengthen any restrictions or bans the Legislature could adopt in the years to follow. It would have to pass through both the Senate and House this year and next year, potentially setting up a statewide ballot vote as early as the spring primary in 2023.

Senate Democrats criticized the abortion proposal as one that undermines bodily autonomy for women and were equally critical of the near-midnight vote Thursday by a Senate committee to move the bill to the floor for a vote when much focus was on the as-yet-unsettled state budget that was due June 30.

The House approved the budget Thursday, followed by the Senate on Friday. Gov. Wolf signed it into law Friday night.

Republicans in the Senate defended the proposed abortion amendment as one protecting the rights of the unborn while also empowering Pennsylvania's voters to choose whether or not the amendment makes the constitution.

A Pew Research Center survey found that 61% of U.S. adults say abortion should be legal in all or most cases, with 37% saying it should be illegal in all or most cases. The results have been steady over the past few years, according to the Pew group, but the political partisan divide on the issue is growing.

Democrats also spoke out against a voter ID requirement, saying it could disenfranchise Black voters and other minorities. Republicans defended the measure, saying a free ID would be provided and that identification is ubiquitous in contemporary society.