by Mary Szoch
March 31, 2021
This past week, the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court issued a huge victory for all Pennsylvanians—born and unborn. In a 6-1 decision, the Commonwealth Court both upheld a 1985 Pennsylvania law stating that state taxpayer dollars could not be used for abortion except in the case of rape, incest, or to save the life of the mother and ruled that “Reproductive Health Centers,” in this case, three Planned Parenthood affiliates and three stand-alone abortion clinics, “lack standing to initiate litigation to vindicate the constitutional rights of their patients enrolled in Medical Assistance.” The abortion businesses who were the plaintiffs in the case will appeal to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.
The Commonwealth Court’s ruling is cause for celebration for several reasons. First, the Commonwealth Court affirmed the rights of Pennsylvanians to have a law prohibiting tax dollars for elective abortions. The 1985 law is essentially Pennsylvania’s version of the Hyde Amendment. This amendment, which passed in 1976, had overwhelming bipartisan support for over 40 years—including support as recent as 2019 from now President Joe Biden—but it is now under attack by Democrats and President Biden. Neither the 1985 Pennsylvania law nor the Hyde Amendment prohibit abortions—both simply state that taxpayer dollars will not be used to fund abortions.
The vast majority of Americans are supportive of this law. In fact, a 2020 Marist poll found that 60 percent of Americans, including 37 percent who identify themselves as pro-choice, oppose taxpayer funding of abortions. Americans recognize that taxpayers who correctly believe abortion is the killing of an innocent unborn baby should not be forced to pay for this practice. Hopefully, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court will uphold this ruling and it will be repeated by other state supreme courts who face similar challenges from abortion providers.
Second, the court ruled that abortion businesses do not have standing to challenge a prohibition on taxpayer dollars paying for abortions. In doing so, the court recognized that the key stakeholders in a case regarding abortion are not businesses who stand to profit from the practice of abortion, but instead, pregnant women who intend to have an abortion. This is a major step in limiting the abortion industry’s exploitation of women in Pennsylvania.
Under the Pennsylvania standard for standing, the Commonwealth Court ruled that they would be required to determine if patients “on whose behalf Reproductive Health Centers purport to speak even want this assistance.” Unfortunately, however, Pennsylvania has a different standard for standing than the federal government. As was seen in the Louisiana case June Medical vs. Russo, the Supreme Court has allowed abortion businesses to file lawsuits on behalf of the women they proport to serve. In doing so, the Supreme Court allowed Louisiana abortionists to continue to profit from putting the lives of women receiving abortions at risk—despite the abortionists’ inability to demonstrate that any affected women actually supported their position.
While the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court’s ruling is not indicative of how the United States Supreme Court would rule in such a case, and while it may be overturned by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, for now, it is a pro-life victory. It is a ruling that recognizes the conscience rights of Pennsylvania taxpayers while limiting the ability of abortion businesses to speak for women. Pray that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court upholds this ruling and that other states’ pro-life efforts are buoyed by this victory.