A funny thing happened before the state legislature broke for winter recess: A bipartisan pair of state representatives, Bryan Cutler (R-Lancaster) and Bryan Barbin (D-Cambria)—hey, maybe that should have been “Bry-partisan”—started looking for co-sponsors for a bill that would require abortion providers to obtain “admitting privileges” at hospitals within 30 miles of the clinic where they practice.
As noted by John L. Micek of the Harrisburg Patriot-News, the bill’s language is “nearly identical to that of a controversial Texas law”: specifically, the legislation passed last July and desperately filibustered by members of that state’s Democratic minority, eliciting state protests and national media coverage before Texas Gov. Rick Perry signed it.
Requiring admitting privileges would mandate clinics to make certain that, should it become medically necessary, their abortion patients could be admitted to a local hospital. Proponents argue the new regulation would protect women’s health in light of the horrendous Kermit Gosnell case here in Philadelphia. The problem is, it would stymie the work of clinics whose only nearby hospital doesn’t perform abortions—and indeed, that part of the law was struck down by a Texas court.
But this is just the most recent example of a striking trend: From fracking to voter suppression to economics, Pennsylvania politics have begun to look more and more like the Lone Star State in recent years. Maybe we’re not as radical, but we’re damn sure trying to be. Here are some examples:
Women’s health. Texas passed a state law in 2012 requiring women seeking abortions to be subjected to a transvaginal ultrasound beforehand. Here in Pennsylvania, Gov. Corbett supported a similar bill until his response to its feminist critics, “You just have to close your eyes,” went viral and the legislation became too politically hot to deal with. The governor was, however, able to sign legislation earlier this year that would bar health insurance plans on the Affordable Care Act exchanges from providing abortion services, even if the patient pays for the services out of her own pocket. Texas has that in place, too.
Corbett also signed a construction restriction bill in 2011, which was called a “back-door” ban on abortions. Critics said it would lead to numerous clinic closings in the commonwealth. And it did. According to a recent Huffington Post analysis, Pennsylvania is among the worst states on women’s rights since Republicans swept the 2010 elections on a supposed economic platform: Five abortion clinics have been shuttered since the Tea Party takeover, which puts us in line with Arizona (where 12 have closed) and Texas (where 9 have closed). The National Abortion and reproductive Rights Action League recently gave Pennsylvania an “F” on choice-related laws. Eighty-two percent of Pennsylvania counties do not have an abortion provider.
Voter ID. You haven’t seen the wrath of voter ID laws in action—yet—but others have. Just ask former Texas House Speaker Jim Wright, who attempted to obtain a new state ID card last year and was actually denied, being told he lacked the proper paperwork to get it.
Texas’ law was first tightened in 2011, requiring voters to show a photo ID at the polls; some opponents believed the law passed due to the state’s growing black and Latino populations, and the U.S. Dept. of Justice agreed, blocking the law due to Voting Rights Act restrictions. But when the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a portion of the VRA in 2013, the Texas law returned with a vengence.
Similarly, Pennsylvania’s voter ID law has been blocked by the courts and is not in effect right now, though it still technically exists. Still, the state government has been continually pushing pro-voter-ID advertisements as of late—which some opponents of the law have called misleading. Jim Burn, head of the state Republican Party, said after the 2012 election that our ID law—despite the court ruling that it not be enforced—helped Republicans cut Obama’s win from 10 points in 2008 to five points in 2012.
Taxes. Gov. Tom Corbett came into office in 2011 on a pledge that he would not raise state taxes. Other than uncapping the gas tax, he’s remained true to that promise. And it’s mostly meant local municipalities raising their own taxes to keep their budgets balanced in the midst of the ongoing economic downturn. Corbett’s pledge came straight from the nationwide campaign of anti-tax lobbyist Grover Norquist—and he still claims to be beholden to it. Norquist is the same so-called reformer who touted former presidential candidate Rick Perry—look, there’s Texas again!—during the 2012 national Republican primary as someone who would keep taxes low for most Americans.
With that in mind, Perry actually came up with his own pledge that he began circulating to those potential pols who wanted to run for Texas state legislature. Perry’s pact called for a complete opposition to tax increases. Texas state Rep. Mike Villarreal said in a statement about Perry’s pledge: “Governor Perry loves to talk about his principles in the abstract, but he doesn’t want to discuss the disabled kids who lose health services when he won’t close corporate tax loopholes, or the students crowded into full classrooms when he won’t touch the Rainy Day Fund.” Sound familiar?
LGBT Rights. Like Texas, Pennsylvania does not have a law allowing for same-sex marriage, does not recognize same-sex marriages from other states and does not protect employees from work-related discrimination. Unlike Texas, we’re the only state in our region where this is true.
Health Care. When the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act was signed into law on Christmas Eve 2009, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott organized a conference call with other attorneys general all over the country to discuss a lawsuit to end the law. That suit eventually led to the U.S. Supreme Court ruling upholding most of it—and Pennsylvania’s then-Attorney General Tom Corbett was one of the names on the suit. Since then, Corbett has utilized the Supremes’ ruling on Medicaid and delayed a decision until recently, when he came up with a hybrid plan (Texas just blocked the Medicaid expansion completely) and backed out of setting up a state exchange, letting the federal government do it for us, just like Texas.
Fracking. In 2010, Corbett and his Democratic opponent ran on a fracking platform, which involved opening up much of the state to natural gas harvesting. It happened, and it happened in an economically radical way: Without an extraction tax.
Pennsylvania is now the largest state which does not tax its natural gas production. Why? Anti-tax advocates used a Penn State University study which predicted drillers would avoid Pennsylvania if production was taxed.
In this instance, we’re worse than Texas.
Follow Randy LoBasso’s “Purplevania” series about Pa.’s political and cultural struggles via regular Twitter updates at @PhillyWeekly.