A Commonwealth Court panel Friday, March 26, 2021, administered what could be a death blow to a challenge by a group of abortion providers to the constitutionality of Pennsylvania’s Abortion Control Act and its restriction regarding publicly financed abortions for women who are on Medical Assistance.
In short, the court ruled in an opinion by Judge Mary Hannah Leavitt that the providers have no legal standing to challenge the act on behalf of their Medical Assistance clients who do not meet the three narrow criteria specified in the law for public financing of their abortions.
“To allow reproductive health centers to assert the rights of others will require this court to rule on constitutional questions when the court has no way of knowing that the patients on whose behalf reproductive health centers purport to speak even want this assistance,” Leavitt wrote.
The Abortion Control Act only allows for medical assistance funding for abortions that are necessary because of a danger to the life of the pregnant woman or which will terminate pregnancies that resulted from rape or incest.
The battle over the 38-year-old act has gone on for years.
Last year, Leavitt’s court allowed 26 GOP state legislators to intervene in the fight on behalf of the Department of Human Services, which was the target of a petition challenging the act. That petition was filed by the Allegheny Reproductive Health Center, the Allentown Women’s Center, the Delaware County Women’s Center, the Philadelphia Women’s Center, Planned Parenthood Keystone, Parenthood Southeastern Pennsylvania, and Planned Parenthood of Western Pennsylvania.
Those providers perform 95 percent of the abortions in Pennsylvania, Leavitt noted. She cited their claim that the Abortion Control Act’s funding restrictions discriminate against their clients because those who don’t meet the three criteria “are forced to choose between continuing their pregnancy to term or using funds needed for essentials of life to pay for an abortion procedure.”
The act’s restrictions also force the providers to devote their own finds and staffing to cover abortions for Medical Assistance clients who are ineligible for publicly funded abortions, Leavitt noted.
The Commonwealth Court ruling might not end the fight because it can be appealed to the state Supreme Court.