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The Continued Legal Assualt on Pro-Life Efforts to Help Mothers & their Unborn Children
Maria V. Gallagher
Pennsylvania Pro-Life Federation | 22 September 2022
For now, pregnancy resource centers in Allentown, Pennsylvania are safe from local government overreach. But the threat of unconstitutional interference from the Allentown City Council remains in this Rustbelt town, long known as an abortion hub in the Keystone State.
In a surprise move in early September, the City Council opted to delay a final vote regarding four proposed pro-abortion ordinances. The reason, it seems, is the inevitable court challenge that would result from the highly discriminatory measures designed to restrict pro-life activity and place abortion centers above state law.
The Morning Call newspaper reported that City Council President Cynthia Mota was concerned that Allentown would face hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees were the ordinances to pass.“We don’t want to burden the taxpayers,” Mota was quoted as saying. “The city does not have the amount of money that it takes.”
The ordinances would establish the following:
· A “buffer zone,” which would require “protesters” to remain 15 feet from hospitals or clinics. The effect of this would be to limit the free speech rights of pro-life sidewalk counselors outside abortion facilities.
· Demand that city officials not be involved in any out-of-state criminal investigations into abortion unless a court order has been issued.
· Restrict what pro-abortion politicians wrongly describe as “deceptive advertising practices” of pregnancy resource centers. These centers provide comprehensive counseling and material aid to pregnant women facing challenging circumstances.
· Require the local police department to “de-prioritize” enforcement of an abortion ban if one should be enacted by the Pennsylvania General Assembly.
The proposed ordinances resulted in a contentious City Council meeting in August which attracted more than 100 members of the public. The situation has also led to widespread statewide media attention in this post-Roe era.
The Executive Director of the Bright Hope pregnancy care center, Jon Merwath, has pledged to file a lawsuit against the city if it passes the “deceptive advertising” ordinance. Merwath says the proposal unfairly targets his facility. Legal challenges could also result from the other proposals because of a failure to establish legal precedent for such measures.
Nevertheless, pro-abortion Council member Josh Siegel has said he intends to re-introduce the controversial measures in October. Siegel has said he hopes to team up with the pro-abortion legal outfit known as the Women’s Law Project to defend the legislation. Still, Allentown Mayor Matt Tuerk and a number of other city officials have said they believe the proposed ordinances may be unenforceable from a legal standpoint.
Abortion is a big business in Allentown. Statistics from the PA Department of Health show that 1,479 abortions occurred in Lehigh County, where Allentown is located, in 2020, the latest year for which statistics are available. All told, more than 32,000 abortions occurred across Pennsylvania that year—a staggering figure which speaks to the ways in which society has failed women.
But the abortion totals in Pennsylvania would be much higher, were it not for the Commonwealth’s protective laws and its network of pregnancy care centers. When the PA Abortion Control Act went into effect in the mid-90s, abortion totals were cut in half.
At the time, the Act was considered a landmark law which became a model for the rest of the nation. The Act includes protections for preborn babies past six months gestation and parental consent, meaning that an underage girl must have the consent of at least one parent or legal guardian before an abortion can take place.
The Act also requires informed consent, meaning that a woman must be told the risks of abortion and about alternatives to abortion before an abortion can occur. The law also requires a 24-hour reflection period, giving a woman time to consult with family and friends before an abortion takes place.
Pennsylvania is also home to an abortion center regulation law which was passed in the wake of the Kermit Gosnell tragedy in West Philadelphia. Abortionist Kermit Gosnell ultimately was convicted of murdering three newborn babies and causing the death of a female immigrant patient, Karnamaya Mongar. The law ensures that abortion facilities must meet basic health and safety standards. Prior to the law going into effect, hair and nail salons received greater scrutiny than abortion centers.
Meanwhile, it has been estimated that pregnancy care centers in Pennsylvania outnumber abortion facilities by a ratio of 9 to 1. The centers—some of which are partly assisted by state funding—offer everything from diapers to day care referrals, and from maternity clothes to mentoring, to pregnant women in need.
The delay of the proposed pro-abortion ordinances in Allentown represents a solid pro-life victory. But advocates for life need to continue to be vigilant to ensure that their rights—and the rights of pregnant women—are not stripped away by abortion extremists in positions of power.