PA has only ever affirmed rights, not taken them away. That could change.
Pennsylvania is the birthplace of the U.S. Constitution in more ways than one. Not only did we physically host the Constitutional Convention in 1787, but the Quaker-inspired Pennsylvania Charter of Privileges also formed the philosophical framework for our nation’s Supreme Law of the Land. In 1701, the Charter read, in part, “no People can be truly happy, though under the greatest Enjoyment of Civil Liberties, if abridged of the Freedom of their Consciences...” Freedom of religion and many other civil liberties found their first foothold in the American spirit in this document. Our own state constitution mirrors the federal one and has a history of being amended only when the issue is serious, and the final change is well-considered.
In the more than 300 years since that first Charter of Privileges, Pennsylvania has only affirmed and recognized rights. It has never banned or taken a right away. If SB106 and the five separate amendments it includes become law, two rights will be curtailed and a third will be placed in direct conflict with the new ‘constitution.’ This is not a well-considered legislative proposal. It is one that would slice a cut deep into the heart of our freedom.
First, SB106 includes an anti-abortion provision that would take away the reproductive rights of any person who can become pregnant. In just six words this amendment would stop protecting: ‘any other right relating to abortion.’ This amendment would continue the error of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs, where Justice Samuel Alito gave credibility to a 17th century judge who presided over witch trials. A sense of history is important, but to me the stronger principle from the 17th century is the recognition of freedom as an expression of individual conscience. The SB106 abortion provision would violate the rights to bodily autonomy and self-determination. It would directly abridge the “Freedom of their Consciences” that we have held dear for more than 300 years.
For my part, I trust people to make the right decisions for themselves and their families in consultation with their doctor. Any person who is pregnant or who can become pregnant should be free to have a safe, legal abortion, and to make other health care decisions without our government telling them what they cannot do.
Another right that would be restricted under SB106 is the right to vote. Two amendments would require a voter ID every time you vote and require a state-led audit. The voter ID provision might sound like a good idea, but it would disenfranchise groups like the elderly, the disabled, people living in poverty, and returning citizens who don’t have the ability to get a correct, up-to-date legal ID on a regular basis.
These provisions are also dangerous because they buy in to the Big Lie that the fairness of our elections is at risk. The only risk to our elections are provisions like these that would place obstacles to exercising the most fundamental right to citizenship. There is no problem of rampant fraud – or even significant fraud – in any recent election. However, if these ideas are enshrined in the constitution, our republic will suffer because thousands, perhaps millions, of people will have to jump through more bureaucratic hoops just to vote. Our system requires that when one party loses an election, it accepts the result. It should not be allowed to change the rules just because their candidate lost.
Finally, SB106 contains a regulatory review provision that would allow a simple majority of legislators to overturn administrative regulations. The current constitutional provision requires a 2/3 majority to take this action. This is important because it takes away an important part of our checks and balances between the three branches of government. Just like the recognition of individual freedom of conscience, our system is based on the idea that the three separate but equal parts of the government – the governor, the legislature, and the courts – can ‘check and balance’ each other. A supermajority (like the 2/3 vote required to overturn administrative action) is part of that system because it avoids a yo-yo effect where policies change with every election. It also avoids going to extremes and keeps policies closer to the political center.
These amendments are rolling through the legislature because a single party has control there but does not control the governor nor the courts. They are a desperate grab at absolute power. I am asking the final decisionmakers – our voters – to place themselves in the shoes of the disabled, the disenfranchised, the pregnant teenager. Recognize that in an instant, we could just as easily be on the outside looking in. We need to maintain a system that protects everyone, not just a select few. I will continue to oppose bills like SB106, and I will vote against legislation that includes these dangerous constitutional amendments in the next session.