Pennsylvania ‘Pro-Life Caucus’ to Re-Introduce Admitting Privileges Bill

Galvanized by a recent ruling regarding Texas' omnibus anti-abortion law, Pennsylvania lawmakers are seeking support to re-introduce an admitting privileges bill.

Galvanized by a recent ruling regarding Texas' omnibus anti-abortion law, Pennsylvania lawmakers are seeking support to re-introduce an admitting privileges bill. Hospital patient via Shutterstock

Two Pennsylvania lawmakers are renewing their effort to pass a bill requiring physicians performing abortions at freestanding clinics in the state to acquire hospital admitting privileges, even though organizations like the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists have determined admitting privileges have no medical benefit, and some courts have ruled such laws unconstitutional.

According to a memo from state Reps. Bryan Cutler (R-Lancaster) and Bryan Barbin (D-Cambria), the bill states that “any physician performing or inducing an abortion who does not have clinical privileges at a hospital which offers obstetrical or gynecological care located within 30 miles of the location at which the abortion is performed or induced shall, upon conviction, be guilty of a misdemeanor in the third degree.”

A local anti-choice group praising the re-introduction of the bill noted that Cutler and Barbin are “the Republican and Democrat leaders of the Pa. House Pro-Life Caucus,” possibly outing them, inadvertently, as members of that caucus.

Though the history of the “Pennsylvania House Pro-Life Caucus” is not entirely clear, newspaper reports indicate the group has been meeting to plan anti-choice legislation since at least the early 1980s. A spokesperson for Rep. Jerry Stern (R-Blair), chair of the caucus, told Rewire that the membership list is “confidential, just for their protection.”

“That is up to each individual representative if they want to share that information,” the spokesperson said. Reps. Cutler and Barbin do not include their membership in the caucus in their online biographies.

Stern’s spokesperson told Rewire that though she could not release member names, she could confirm there are “over 135 members.”

This subterfuge helps to explain why a lawmaker most recently touting his legislative efforts toward “eliminating redundant hospital accredidation [sic] procedures” on his Facebook page is pushing health-care regulations that apply only to reproductive care.

Pennsylvania is one of nine states that already requires clinics providing abortion services to negotiate a transfer agreement with a local hospital. From Chapter 29 of the Pennsylvania code:

Each freestanding clinic shall have a written transfer agreement. The agreement shall be entered into with a hospital which is capable of providing routine emergency services.

The code then itemizes what specific services said hospital must provide in order to enter into a transfer agreement.

This mandate has been in effect since the Abortion Control Act was implemented in 1989.

Pennsylvania lawmakers effectively re-endorsed transfer agreements during the two years spent debating details of new abortion facility regulations that now require freestanding clinics to comply with ambulatory surgical facility guidelines.

According to Planned Parenthood Pennsylvania Advocates Executive Director Sari Stevens, the new regulations gave Pennsylvania health centers providing abortion care the option of holding a transfer agreement with a hospital or having their doctors hold admitting privileges with a hospital. Pennsylvania clinics stuck with transfer agreements.

“All of us have transfer agreements and have for decades,” said Stevens. Now, anti-choice lawmakers are deeming this no longer sufficient.

The timing is curious. After courts in Alabama, Mississippi, North Dakota, and Wisconsin blocked similar laws, courts issued an injunction for the admitting privileges part of a controversial bill in Texas. Then, in a ruling celebrated by anti-choice advocates, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the injunction and allowed the admitting privileges mandate to go into effect in Texas.

After speaking with Cutler last week, the Patriot News reported that “given the Texas ruling … [Cutler]’s thinking about retooling the legislation to respond to the legal objections raised in the court ruling.”

The mandate went into effect in Texas November 1, and the results were immediate. The Washington Post reported, “A day after a federal appeals court allowed most of the state’s new abortion restrictions to take effect during a legal challenge, about a third of Texas’ clinics were barred from performing the procedure.”

Despite “retooling” the Pennsylvania legislation based on the Texas ruling, Rep. Cutler claims he doesn’t understand the possible impact of his proposed bill. He recently told Fox43, “I don’t understand how the requirement of having admitting privileges at a hospital in an of itself would decrease or increase the number of abortions.”

Beyond politics, and already-existing transfer agreements, the state’s data doesn’t support the need to require admitting privileges. According to the Pennsylvania Department of Health, complication arising from an abortion procedure is statistically rare. In 2011, the complication rate was .003 percent. It’s unknown how many of those complications were serious enough to require hospital care. The number is so statistically insignificant that the state doesn’t even track that data.