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Rep. Kathy Rapp introduced a bill that would ban abortions after 20 weeks into a pregnancy, contrary to the 24 weeks ban in place currently | Courtesy of Antoine Taveneaux/Wikimedia commons

Kate Grum and her husband planned to name their unborn son Connor.

Connor would grow up healthy in the Grums’ Philadelphia home and would be a little brother to the couple’s eldest son, Gavin. But for Grum, everything that would be in her future became everything that wouldn’t when she underwent an abortion.

It would have been illegal for Grum to have an abortion if a state law, like the one proposed in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives in early April, banned abortions by any method after 20 weeks gestation.

Earlier this month, Rep. Kathy Rapp (R-Warren) introduced a bill that would amend the Pennsylvania Abortion Control Act to make abortion a crime after 20 weeks of pregnancy, rather than the current 24 weeks. Rapp said the bill is founded on scientific research which indicates that unborn babies feel pain after 20 weeks.

The bill would limit the use of dilation and evacuation (D&E) procedures — a method of abortion usually used in second trimester abortions — and provides no exceptions for rape, incest or fetal anomaly, according to an April 8 Philadelphia Inquirer article.

Twenty-one weeks and four days into her pregnancy in 2011, Grum visited the Pennsylvania Hospital — which is part of Penn Medicine — for her anatomy scan.

When the doctor took a look at the ultrasound scans, the Grum couple was told that their unborn son had no kidneys and bladder, a fetal anomaly.

The unborn child had Potter’s syndrome, which is caused by a decrease in amniotic fluid volume. This leads to the lack of development of some organs. Grum’s doctor told her that if she carried the baby to term, there was only a slim chance of his survival and that she could be at risk of suffering internal damage.

Grum, now 35 years old, was given the option of undergoing a D&E procedure, an abortion that involves the dilation of the cervix and surgical evacuation of the contents of the uterus. She was faced with the most difficult decision of her life and decided to proceed with the abortion, all for her recently-born child, Gavin.

“Think about it,” Grum said. “Do you want to put yourself at risk? You have a perfectly healthy, wonderful baby at home that you need to be there for.”

“I had to be there for him. It was the worst week of my life, and getting that news was the worst day of my life,” Grum added. “Not knowing what to think and how to process and how to deal with it was dramatic.”

In what was a two-day process at Pennsylvania Hospital, Grum’s abortion took place almost 22 weeks into her pregnancy. Since that day in 2011, not a day goes by that she does not think about Connor.

***

The abortion bill, which was introduced on April 1, has sparked statewide controversy as the Republican-controlled state House attempted to fast-track the bill to a floor vote. On April 11, Pennsylvania Gov. Thomas Wolf held a press conference, along with Planned Parenthood leaders and abortion rights activists, threatening to veto the bill if it passed both chambers of the state legislature.

“[The bill] criminalizes the D&E method of abortion,” President of Planned Parenthood Southeastern Pennsylvania Dayle Steinberg said. “That is one of the most commonly used methods of second-trimester abortions. It is frequently used in the first trimester as well. We are opposed to it because it is unconstitutional. It is extreme. It would be the most restrictive abortion ban in the country.”

The final vote on the bill was postponed amidst the governor’s warning and significant press coverage. The fate of the proposed legislation is uncertain.

Rapp, who chairs the state’s Pro-Life Caucus, condemned Gov. Wolf’s veto threat and specified she would want to see the bill be considered for a floor vote as soon as possible.

“It is very unfortunate that the governor views this bill as an extremist bill when the purpose of the bill is to try and save unborn children and to try to prevent a higher risk to the mother when an abortion is over 20 weeks,” Rapp said. “He is still willing for babies to be aborted when they can feel pain because of the procedure.”

Randall Miller, a local politics expert and St. Joseph’s University history professor, noted the slim chances of Republicans overriding a veto and speculated whether the bill is more of a statement made on an election year.

“The purpose [of the bill] is threefold at least,” Miller said. “One is a moral argument that [Republicans] make about the sanctity of life, and they want, as much as possible, to roll back Roe v. Wade. The second, of course, is that there is a political interest. There is a constituency that expects them to do that, not to sit on their haunches ... The third part of it is to get [these types of legislations] ... eventually into the Supreme Court for them to decide, they’re hoping, to reverse Roe v. Wade.”

Roe v. Wade was a historic 1973 Supreme Court case that recognized a woman’s decision to have an abortion until fetal viability. In Planned Parenthood v. Casey in 1992, the Supreme Court acknowledged that viability may occur at 23 or 24 weeks.

While many pundits argue that the proposed 20-week abortion ban would conflict with the Supreme Court’s past rulings, Rapp asserted that the amendment is constitutional. Rapp argued that the Supreme Court has previously upheld the Pennsylvania Abortion Control Act’s main provisions and that advances in pre-natal care have shown that fetuses can be viable even before 20 weeks of gestation.

“We have seen children born alive at 20 weeks who are viable and who are able to live and thrive at 20 weeks,” Rapp said.

Yet, Grum said that such a law would have impeded her from having an abortion and could have put her at risk.

“You cannot see kidneys on an ultrasound until close to 20 weeks. So, it’s not something that could have been diagnosed earlier ... Without [the option for abortion] I would have had to carry to term,” Grum said.

If she would have carried her baby to term, her unborn child’s condition would have affected the development of his lungs and would have probably been fatal, Grum said. “[If] he was born, he would never be able to breath, and I’d be lucky if I got minutes or hours [with him],” she said.

***

The proposed Pennsylvanian bill that would place more restrictions on abortions is not unique to the state, but part of a nationwide trend.

There has been a significant hike in state abortion regulations over the past five years. Between 2011 and 2014, states passed 231 restrictions, more than in the previous three decades, according to a Guttmacher Institute report. According to the same institute, 411 abortion restrictions have been introduced so far this year, of which 17 have passed at least one chamber and 21 have been passed in five states.

Today, four states — Wyoming, North Dakota, South Dakota and Mississippi — have only one facility authorized to carry out abortions.

The decrease in abortion clinics nationwide sometimes makes it harder for women to find a center close to them. Grum said she was fortunate enough to have gotten her abortion in her own city.

“It is such a terribly emotional, traumatizing experience,” she said. “I was lucky that I had the option, lucky that I was 10 miles from home and did not have to go [so many] miles away like some people do now. I was in my city, there at home. I was lucky that everyone was so wonderful.”

***

At Penn, the conversation about the effects of abortion restrictions nationwide is taking place on campus.

On April 13, Penn hosted a screening of a documentary and panel discussion on abortion restrictions, known as Targeted Regulations of Abortion Providers, or TRAP, laws. Planned Parenthood, American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania and Penn Cinema Studies, among other groups, hosted the event in Meyerson Hall.

Curtiss Hannum, vice president of programming and center affairs for The Women’s Centers of Philadelphia, and 2014 College graduate Lexi White, a community organizer with New Voices for Reproductive Justice, were the panelists for the event.

Hannum talked about the challenges of abiding by absurd state regulations that sometimes forced clinics to implement specific air conditioning systems — which can cost upwards of $500,000 — to meet clinical safety standards.

Some students on Penn’s campus, however, support pro-life legislation like the one being proposed in Pennsylvania.

Wharton freshman Eric Hoover is a member of a pro-life group called Created Equal, based out of his home state of Ohio. For Hoover, a pre-born baby has inherent human value.

“Abortion after 20 weeks is not mainly wrong because that pre-born child is viable outside the womb at that time, although that is also a horrible and heinous thing.” Hoover said. “The main point I’m trying to get across is that abortion is wrong, period, because abortion kills human beings ... [a baby] is still scientifically a human being from the moment of conception.”

Hoover condemned so-called "dismemberment abortion" and argued that the bill is constitutional because the Supreme Court erred in Roe v. Wade almost 40 years ago.

“We can all agree that the Supreme Court has been wrong before,” he said. “The Supreme Court supported segregation and upheld Jim Crow laws, so I think the Roe v. Wade decision was a wrong one by the Supreme Court.”

***

Grum personally wrote to her state representative about her experience and urged him to oppose the proposed 20-week abortion ban. As she awaits the future of the bill, Grum has found solace in her family. After her abortion she went on to have another son, now three years old.

But she’ll never forget Connor.

“Not a day goes by that I don’t think about it,” Grum said. “Not a day goes by that I don’t wish that he was here. We wanted this baby; we loved this baby; we were excited to have this baby. So, not a day goes by that I don’t think about it.”

Clarification: A previous version of this article's headline incorrectly identified Rep. Kathy Rapp as a congresswoman. She is a Pennsylvania state representative. 

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