Members of the Philadelphia City Council announced plans Wednesday to introduce legislation aimed at protecting access to abortions inside city limits — including a bill proponents said would be one of the nation’s strongest privacy protection laws.
The measures would bar the voluntary sharing of information about reproductive health choices for the purpose of prosecution or civil lawsuits and update the city’s antidiscrimination laws to include protections for reproductive health decisions. It also would create a right of patients and providers to counter-sue if they are sued by out-of-state residents under one of several laws seeking to prevent people from traveling across state lines to seek abortions.
The legislation will be introduced at Thursday’s City Council meeting.
A resolution calls on the city to bar city resources from being used to cooperate with out-of-state lawsuits, prosecutions or investigations related to abortions, to work with providers to increase safety at clinics, to create an abortion access task force and to support allocating additional city funds to help offset the costs of abortions and reproductive care among other requests.
“We want to affirm our municipal rights at this time to be able to establish new protections for individuals, for people here in this city and to be able to send that message broadly across the state and across the country,” said At-Large Councilmember Helen Gym.
Gym said the supporters expected pushback, but she said the bills would hopefully set some legal precedent and “advance new territory” in protecting reproductive health decisions.
The proposed local legislation comes after the U.S. Supreme Court’s June decision overturning Roe v. Wade, a ruling that pushed regulating abortions to states. It also comes less than two months before midterm elections that will likely decide the future of abortion access in Pennsylvania moving forward.
“We did want to push on the privacy issue because we think it’s so fundamental and it’s really the fundamental underpinning behind Roe v. Wade, that (abortion) was and always is a private decision about what to do with your healthcare and your body,” Gym said.
Philadelphia isn’t the first municipality to consider local regulations around abortion access.
In July, the Pittsburgh City Council passed three bills aimed at protecting access to abortion locally. Those measures included a law that protects abortion providers from out-of-state investigations — known as a shield law and legislation that requires local law enforcement agencies to deprioritize the enforcement of any criminal ban on abortion enacted at the state level.
The third Pittsburgh bill increased scrutiny on practices at pregnancy crisis centers, which often work to dissuade pregnant women from seeking abortions. It creates a complaint process for what the council said were deceptive practice and a way to refer those complaints for possible criminal investigation.
Leaders in both Philadelphia and Pittsburgh have called the cities refuges for people travelling from other states that have enacted strict abortion bans to seek reproductive healthcare.