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City Council to consider bills that support reproductive rights after Roe is overturned

Julia Zenkevich
90.5 WESA

Days after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, Pittsburgh City Councilor Bobby Wilson introduced three bills Tuesday that he said would "protect reproductive freedom" — if only within city limits.

The first bill would protect local abortion providers from out-of-state prosecution and investigation for providing care. It asserts that "no city official ... may cooperate with, provide any information related to, or expend or use time, money, facilities, property, equipment, personnel, or other city resources in furtherance of any out-of-state investigation, civil action, or prosecutions" related to abortions. It contains an exception for cases in which an official is compelled by court order or federal or state law to do so.

"Ohio, they currently ban abortions after six weeks, and West Virginia, they're expected to do a total ban," Wilson said in a press conference on Tuesday afternoon. "In contrast, Pennsylvania remains that abortions are banned after 24 weeks. And there's not an expected ban, but we want to make sure that providers are protected."

Greer Donley, a professor at University of Pittsburgh Law, said it is smart for the city to be proactive about protecting abortion providers from outside investigation.

"Unfortunately the worst is probably yet to come," Donley said. "Already you have states that are interested and willing to go after providers who are providing completely legal care in their home state. ... All it takes is a rogue prosecutor in one of these states to potentially go after our providers."

Donley said Pittsburgh will likely become a "haven" for abortion care in the region because crackdowns in Ohio and West Virginia mean more patients are likely come to Pennsylvania for abortion care. Pittsburgh hosts the only abortion providers in the western part of the state.

Another bill Wilson introduced Tuesday would instruct city officials and police to deprioritize the enforcement of abortion-related crimes, if abortions are ever banned nationwide or in the Commonwealth.

Pennsylvania's abortion law was unchanged by the Supreme Court's decision last week, but that could change: If Republicans prevail in this fall's gubernatorial race — and state legislative contests — abortion bans are likely. Republican gubernatorial nominee Doug Mastriano supports a bill that would effectively ban abortions after six weeks — a timeframe so short that women often don't know they are pregnant until it ends. A nationwide ban is also possible in the years ahead.

Wilson's legislation would address that contingency by mandating that anytime a city police officer is on the clock, enforcing abortion laws "would be at the bottom of their list" to prioritize during their shift.

The bill would likely face legal challenges by pro-life groups, but Wilson said that he is "in constant communication with our law department" on the bills about such concerns.

Donley said the approach could prove workable even in the face of a court challenge. The city, she said, "is not saying 'We're not going to enforce these laws at all.' They're just deprioritizing enforcement. ... Typically law enforcement does have some discretion in how they allocate their time and budgets."

A third bill proposed by Wilson prohibits deceptive advertising by so-called "pregnancy centers," which provide some reproductive health services but seek to discourage patients from seeking abortions. Critics of the centers say those who use them often are misled into thinking they can obtain an abortion.

Council is set to begin discussion of the bills next Wednesday in its standing committee meeting.