By Maria V. Gallagher, Legislative Director
History is being celebrated this year in Pennsylvania, as pro-life activists mark the 30th anniversary of the passage of the landmark Abortion Control Act.
The result of much research and planning, this trailblazing piece of legislation was tailor-made with the U.S. Supreme Court in mind. Legislators drafted the bill believing that it could be upheld by the High Court—a prediction which largely came to pass.
In the end, in a case known as Planned Parenthood v. Casey, the Supreme Court struck only the spousal notification portion of the law, a provision which had stated that a spouse be notified before an abortion could take place. But the rest of the law stood—and it has stood the test of time.
The life-saving legislation provided for informed consent, meaning a woman had to be told the risks of abortion and apprised of alternatives to abortion before an abortion could take place. It also provided for parental consent, meaning that one parent had to give permission before an abortion occurred. The law also included a 24 hour waiting period for abortions, allowing women time to reflect and to discuss their decision with family and other confidantes before an abortion took place.
In addition, the Pennsylvania Abortion Control Act banned sex selection abortions, meaning that a baby girl could not be aborted if the mother wanted a boy (and vice-versa). At a time when sex selection abortions remain an important gender equality issue, the 1989 Abortion Control Act definitely seems ahead of its time.
Legal challenges prevented the Abortion Control Act from taking effect until 1994. But once the law kicked in, abortion totals plummeted by the thousands in Pennsylvania. It is estimated that more than 150,000 lives have been saved in the Keystone State as a result of this ground-breaking law.
In addition, the Abortion Control Act paved the path for other states to pass similar legislation. A flurry of new protections for preborn children and their mothers followed, ushering in a golden era of state legislation on the pro-life front.
Pennsylvanians had hoped that the Abortion Control Act would overturn Roe v. Wade, the tragic U.S. Supreme Court ruling which struck abortion laws in all 50 states. While that dream might have been delayed, the law did help to propel the pro-life movement forward, both legislatively and educationally speaking.
Pennsylvania recently recorded its lowest abortion total ever—a testament to the power of a pro-life law, enacted a generation ago. The Pennsylvania Abortion Control Act was an historic achievement which has made the Keystone State a better place to live.