State lawmaker who says she backs abortion rights voted for bill that could limit access

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Pennsylvania state Rep. K.C. Tomlinson voted for a bill that would force abortion providers to inter or cremate fetal tissue remaining after abortion or miscarriage if the patient did not arrange for burial.

K.C. Tomlinson, a Republican member of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, claims to support abortion rights.

Her voting record, however, shows that she supported an measure that would force hospitals and clinics in the state to bury fetal tissue remaining as a result of a miscarriage or abortion that took place in their facilities if the patient did not arrange for burial — a bill abortion rights groups say would make it harder to access an abortion.

In an interview published on Oct. 2 by the Bucks County Courier Times, Tomlinson, who faces a challenge from pro-abortion rights Democratic candidate Laurie Smith in November, said she supports Pennsylvania's current law, which allows for abortion until fetal viability, and later if medical conditions require.

"As a young woman, I believe we should protect access to safe and legal abortion in Pennsylvania. I do not believe in late-term abortions for non-medical reasons, which is already law in Pennsylvania," Tomlinson told the Courier Times.

But in 2021, Tomlinson voted for H.B. 118, a bill that would require hospitals and clinics to "cremate or inter the fetal remains" from miscarriages or abortions. Under Article IX of the Pennsylvania Vital Statistics Law of 1953, facility staff would be subject to a fine of between $50 and $300 every time they did not cremate or inter the tissue, and if they failed to pay the fine, could be "imprisoned in the county jail for a period not to exceed thirty (30) days."

In a website post stating its position on the bill, the Pennsylvania chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union called the bill "unnecessary," "dangerously expansive," "invasive," and "burdensome," saying:

Under current law, there is nothing that prevents a woman from arranging a burial or cremation for a miscarriage or abortion before 16 weeks gestation. Rather than leaving that decision to women, HB 118 would require the ritual disposition of all products of conception following a miscarriage or abortion at a healthcare facility, regardless of gestational age. … Legislation like HB 118 creates difficult, vague, conflicting, and sometimes impossible, new regulations for clinics to comply with — all of which would ultimately impede women's access to abortion.

The bill passed the Pennsylvania House in June 2021, with Tomlinson voting in favor of it.

It was moved to the Senate, but did not pass, instead going through a series of procedural votes and finally being tabled on Oct. 25. Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf has vowed to veto the bill if it comes to his desk.

"It's despicable that Republican lawmakers in Pennsylvania are actively working to criminalize health care decisions," Wolf tweeted on June 8, 2021, as the bill was being considered in the House. "Abortion is health care. It's not a politician's place to decide what a woman can and cannot do with her body."

Abortion rights are a major issue in the 2022 elections, after the Supreme Court overturned the landmark Roe v. Wade decision that had affirmed the constitutional right to an abortion in the United States. With Roe struck down, states are now free to enact limits on abortion access.

A number of GOP-controlled state legislatures passed laws banning abortion after the court ruling.

Democrats are warning that if Republicans win control of governorships in states like Pennsylvania, they will enact more bans.

A win by Republican gubernatorial nominee Doug Mastriano, who has said he wants to ban abortion in all instances, could allow GOP lawmakers in Pennsylvania to revive and pass the legislation and send it to his desk for signature.

Tomlinson first won a special election in Pennsylvania's 18th House District, in Bucks County north of Philadelphia, in 2020. She was elected to a full term in November of that year by a 4.5-point margin.

The website Spotlight PA calls the district competitive.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.