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Anti-abortion advocates gather in Harrisburg for annual Pennsylvania March for Life rally

People with a large banner stand in a row.
Blaine Shahan
LPN | LancasterOnline
The 2023 Pennsylvania March for Life moves along Third Street in Harrisburg in front of the Pennsylvania Capitol building Monday, Oct. 16, 2023.

Elizabethtown resident Juanita Horst held a red “Choose Life” sign above her head as she stood with thousands of anti-abortion advocates on the state Capitol steps Monday for the third annual Pennsylvania March for Life rally.

Horst said she traveled to Harrisburg to demand “no abortions at all” in the Commonwealth.

Several Lancaster County GOP lawmakers stood on the rally’s stage as speakers called for an abortion ban.

One Lancaster legislator in attendance was House Republican Leader Rep. Bryan Cutler, who spoke at last year’s event. Cutler, of Drumore Township, told LNP|LancasterOnline that “being pro-life for me means not just birth but providing the support necessary to support the moms and the families.”

He said he was “disappointed” earlier this year when Democratic Gov. Josh Shapiro cut millions of dollars worth of state funding for Real Alternatives, an organization criticized by abortion rights activists for not providing abortion-related information to clients.

Speakers at the event also criticized Shapiro’s decision.

“We should never be okay with the other side claiming victory for ending valuable programs that promote the sanctity of life,” said state Sen. Kristin Phillips-Hill, R-York. “We need to work together to educate and most importantly to pray for God’s blessing on everyone.”

Jill Hartman is the executive director of A Woman’s Concern, which she described as a pregnancy support center based in Lancaster County. On stage she told the crowd that Shapiro’s move to cut the funding amounts to removing a reproductive health care option for pregnant people

She said after the rally that her organization received about $100,000 annually through the Real Alternatives program.

A spokesperson for Shapiro declined to comment. Shapiro positioned himself as a champion for reproductive rights while campaigning for governor last year and has said repeatedly he supports abortion access.

After the rally, Planned Parenthood Pennsylvania Executive Director Signe Espinoza issued a statement saying abortion is a decision to be decided by a woman and her physician, not by politicians.

“Access to the full spectrum of sexual and reproductive health care is a matter of personal liberty, privacy and autonomy,” Espinoza said. “The opposition will do and say anything to paint a false narrative about abortion, but we know the facts. Abortion is common, safe, and legal in the state of Pennsylvania and we’re going to continue fighting to keep it that way.”

Republican state Reps. Tom Jones, Brett Miller, David Zimmerman and Steven Mentzer were among the Lancaster County lawmakers who attended the event, along with Sens. Ryan Aument and Chris Gebhard.

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Efforts to restrict abortion

Although the push to restrict abortion in the Legislature has stalled this session, last year the then GOP-controlled General Assembly passed an amendment to the state Constitution declaring “no constitutional right to taxpayer-funded abortion or other right relating to abortion.”

Every Lancaster County lawmaker at the time, except for Lancaster city Democrat Mike Sturla, voted in favor of the amendment.

Constitutional amendments must pass two succeeding sessions of the General Assembly and then be approved by voters. They are not vetoable by the governor.

The Democratic House is unlikely to consider the amendment on the floor for the required second passing before the end of the 2023-24 session.

State Sen. Judy Ward, a Blair County Republican and former nurse, wrote the language for the amendment and led the March for Life rallygoers Monday in the Pledge of Allegiance.

This story is published in partnership with our partners LNP | LancasterOnline.