House committee to consider Reproductive Rights Amendment

HARRISBURG, Dec. 13 – State Reps. Danielle Friel Otten, D-Chester, and Liz Hanbidge, D-Montgomery, today announced that the House Judiciary Committee will hold a public hearing at 9:30 a.m. today, Dec. 13, on their joint resolution proposing a Reproductive Rights Amendment to the Pennsylvania Constitution.

The proposed legislation, introduced as House Bill 1888, comes on the heels of a referendum approved by voters in Ohio this November, when Ohio became the seventh state, and the latest “red” state, where the people voted to protect reproductive rights by ballot initiative following the Supreme Court’s June 2022 ruling that overturned Roe v. Wade.

The Otten and Hanbidge bill proposes an amendment to the Pennsylvania Constitution that would reaffirm and protect every individual’s right of reproductive liberty with respect to personal, sexual, and reproductive healthcare decisions, including the right to choose or refuse an abortion, the right to choose or refuse contraceptives, and the right to choose or refuse fertility care, without discrimination on the basis of race, sex, religion, disability, age, sexual orientation, gender identity, or relationship status.

Under the House rules passed at the start of the 2023 legislative session, which improve the transparency of the constitutional amendment process, any proposed amendment to the Pennsylvania Constitution must receive a public hearing before it can be considered on the House floor. A committee hearing helps to raise public awareness of the legislation, ensure transparency of the process, and give lawmakers the opportunity to review the language of the bill for clarity and intent. The new general operating rules of the House also ensure that proposed amendments only appear on election ballots during general elections, not primary elections, which tend to have much lower voter turnout.

“Abortion is currently safe and legal in the commonwealth, and as a mother to a young girl, I feel a responsibility to ensure that we protect and preserve that right. I do not want my daughter’s personal health or economic future to be at the mercy of a governor’s veto pen. We need to explicitly enshrine these rights in the Pennsylvania Constitution,” Otten said. “While the people of Pennsylvania strongly support personal reproductive liberty, our call to action is engaging and building a pro-choice majority in both the House and Senate to move this initiative forward and ultimately get it in front of the voters. This is just the beginning of the work, and my colleagues and I are committed to seeing it through.”

“While abortion currently remains safe and legal in the commonwealth, Wednesday’s hearing is the first step in a process to allow all Pennsylvanians to explicitly reaffirm their belief that women have the right to make their own reproductive healthcare decisions, including decisions about contraception, fertility care, and abortion,” Hanbidge said. “As we work on moving this bill through the legislative process, I hope that people will continue to reach out to their senators and representatives to ask them to support it.”

“To be clear, we believe the Pennsylvania state constitution already has protections that include reproductive autonomy rights,” said Susan J. Frietsche, co-executive director of Women’s Law Project. “Reproductive liberty is so fundamental to equality and human dignity that it should be explicitly enshrined in our state constitution.”

“Reproductive freedom is already protected and legal under Pennsylvania law but adding it to the state constitution would add another layer of defense” said Rep. Tim Briggs, chair of the House Judiciary Committee. “The first step in amending the constitution in Pennsylvania is to hold a hearing on the proposal and I am proud to be holding that hearing today.  At the end of the day, what is clear, politicians have no business infringing or interfering with a woman's right to choose.”

“We know that Pennsylvanians support reproductive rights, and this makes me proud to cosponsor H.B.1888 to ensure privacy and personal autonomy for individuals making decisions about their own reproductive healthcare,” said state Rep. Mary Jo Daley, D-Montgomery. “While abortion is safe and legal in Pennsylvania, this constitutional amendment will allow Pennsylvania voters to weigh in at the polls and solidify these basic human rights.”

"We've seen the support for protecting reproductive rights across the country at the polls. Pennsylvania is no different,” said state Rep. Morgan Cephas, D-Phila. “Despite the rhetoric and misinformation, when reproductive rights are on the ballot, people show up to defend the rights of birthing people for not just autonomy over their own body but the right to make their own decisions on healthcare. This public hearing is a confident step of transparency in the process of putting this question on the ballot, and for informing Pennsylvanians about the need for this constitutional enshrinement of existing rights.”

“While the U.S. Supreme Court issues its ruling on mifepristone, I support Rep. Otten’s and Rep. Hanbidge’s legislation to propose an amendment so we may ratify reproductive health, rights and justice into our commonwealth’s constitution,” said state Rep. La’Tasha D. Mayes, D-Allegheny. “Since overturning Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court has worked to advance a right-wing agenda, taking away the right for millions of Americans to make decisions about their reproductive healthcare. This constitutional amendment would ensure that Pennsylvanians get to decide, without the interference of Pennsylvania legislators or the U.S. Supreme Court.”

In order to advance following Wednesday’s hearing and ultimately appear on a future ballot for voters, the bill will need to be reported out of Judiciary Committee, then pass both the House and the Senate, with no changes to the bill language, in two consecutive legislative sessions.

View the livestream of Wednesday’s hearing here.