Senator Baker Floor Remarks On Senate Bill 3

 

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HARRISBURG — Sen. Lisa Baker, R-20th, offered the following floor remarks on SB 3:

“The vote we are about to take has weighed heavily on my mind and in my heart.

My comments and questions are not at odds with legislative efforts to decrease elective abortions.  Rather, they are based on the concern that this particular bill could compound the suffering of individuals who are going through the worst moments a mother can experience, and penalize the medical professionals trained to alleviate such trauma.

Protecting life is clearly a paramount responsibility.  It is a common thread in our debates about health care, education, the environment, criminal justice, economic opportunity and more.  Despite all the laws and regulations approved over the years, even taking into account the significant decline in the number of abortions, most Pennsylvanians believe there are still too many being performed.

It is certainly legitimate for us to reexamine the state laws regarding abortion.  One of the greatest marvels of medical science is how we have increased survivability of premature births.  There are many individuals living among us who, had they been born a generation or two earlier, would have had no hope for long life.  For that, we are blessed as a society.

For those of us questioning what is being attempted here today, it is not to say that we do not value life or have stopped trying to protect life.

However, the difficulty in securing change reasonably goes beyond the improbable challenge of bridging the divide between the two sides of this discussion.

Many opposed to abortion in all circumstances do so out of deeply held religious and moral beliefs. I understand and respect those individuals.

But if we concede that there are exceptions to an absolute ban, then the concern about practice does matter.  Should it be dictated legislatively?  Once we start substituting legislative judgement for medical judgement, where does it stop?

The hard truth is that medical science is unable to predict or detect a variety of genetic abnormalities on a schedule.

Has everyone taken the time to look at the list of lethal defects that are not detectable or diagnosable until eighteen to twenty weeks after gestation?  Has everyone taken time to talk to a physician who had to deliver terrible news?

Has everyone taken time to talk to a mother who had to receive this devastating news?  Are we going to take into account the impossible choices these individuals confront?

My argument today is not one simply of political or personal philosophy.  Rather it comes from a deeply painful experience.

As the mother of a son, my appreciation for the value and wonder of life is incomparable.

As the mother of a child who was diagnosed with a rare genetic condition well after the twenty-week threshold, my understanding of the intense pain and sorrow involved has not subsided or diminished in 21 years.  Nothing prepares a family – a father or a mother – to hear the words, “Your baby’s diagnosis is incompatible with life.”

For me, early testing offered hope, but that was dashed in an instant when we received the results of extensive diagnostic exams and an Amniocentesis.  For weeks, I rode the roller coaster of receiving good and bad news from numerous doctors concerning tests that were conducted over a 7-week period.

At first, I was assured my baby was fine and that I was going to have another son.  The previous result was simply a false positive – nothing to worry about.  We opted for further tests to be certain.  In the meantime, everything appeared to be normal, and my pregnancy was progressing.

Then we received the call that changed our lives.  The specialist in Philadelphia called to say the results were in and we needed to be in his office at 9 am the next morning.  We had to travel 2 hours knowing something had gone terribly wrong.

The news was devastating. The son we thought would join our family was in fact a daughter – one who had a very rare chromosome abnormality – a diagnosis even the doctor had no experience with.  He said there was a 1 in 125,000 chance of having this result detected in an Amniocentesis test.  I couldn’t catch my breath – this couldn’t be happening to me or my family.  He told us to go home and talk to our doctor, our family, and our minister.  My husband and I were in shock and disbelief.

Follow up visits confirmed that I was already in premature labor.  Our daughter, Alison, was delivered stillborn at the hospital a short time later.  I was planning for a nursery never expecting to plan a funeral.

Yes, my life was forever changed by this experience.  My son never got to be the big brother he wished for.  My husband and I never had more children.  And I lost my father less than 2 weeks after our daughter’s funeral, which my mother always believed was from a broken heart for our loss.

There but for the grace of God goes I.  I can’t help but think of the women who receive this same devastating news.

This is not a matter to be decided based upon misperception or misrepresentation.  Efforts to legislate and criminalize the practice of medicine set a dangerous precedent.  The concerns of hundreds of obstetricians and gynecologists should matter, and it is hard to discount their worry and concern for their patients. Once we get into the substitution of legislative preference for medical judgement, there will be many other areas to make a statement of belief in inflexible and unforgiving law. Do we really want to convict doctors of a 3rd degree felony punishable by 7 years in jail for offering medically appropriate care?

And why are we moving something so consequential so quickly without a public hearing?  During the past two-year session, I chaired several hearings on subjects of great emotion where views are intensely divided.  Each side was given the opportunity to make their case.  Members could ask questions, and the parties could respond.  It is what deliberative bodies do when they are in serious search of equitable and balanced solutions.  Why is this issue not being given the same treatment?

If this bill cannot withstand an open round of debate involving the medical community and ethicists, what do we really have here?

Is it possible to go too far in law and sanction, to where we cost lives when we were intending to save them?

The motivation behind this proposal may be very well intended, but the implications and consequences are not.  I cannot in conscience support it.”

Contact:

Andrew M. Seder
aseder@pasen.gov
(570) 226-5960