Connecting state and local government leaders
A Pennsylvania lawmaker said his “parody legislation,” outlined in a sponsorship memo, is meant to garner discussion about reproductive rights.
After Texas enacted a restrictive policy banning abortions after six weeks of pregnancy, a Pennsylvania lawmaker came up with a reproductive restriction policy of his own: mandatory vasectomies for men at age 40 or after the birth of their third child, “whichever comes first.”
The legislation, outlined in a sponsorship memo from state Rep. Christopher Rabb, is meant as a parody and will never come to the floor for debate. But it’s generated plenty of discussion since Rabb proposed it this month—which is, he said, the entire point.
“To each person who views this bill I’ve introduced as absurd, I’d urge you to apply equal scrutiny to laws in places like Texas and right here in Pennsylvania, which enact paternalistic restrictions on the personal liberty of cis women, trans men and nonbinary individuals who have an unwanted pregnancy,” Rabb, a Democrat from Philadelphia, wrote in a press release announcing the "parody legislation." “What’s good for the goose is good for the gander!”
In addition to mandating vasectomies, Rabb’s bill would encourage “reproductive responsibility among men” by allowing Pennsylvanians to take civil action “against inseminators” for unwanted pregnancies. The bill would provide a $10,000 reward for people who report “scofflaws” to authorities, and would “codify into state law a definition of ‘wrongful conception’ to include when a person has demonstrated negligence toward preventing conception during intercourse.”
The proposal, inspired by similar legislation in Illinois, aims to demonstrate what Rabb called the hypocrisy of state policies that aim to police abortion by restricting the rights of women without addressing the responsibility shared by men in unplanned pregnancies.
That includes the new policy in Texas, which prohibits abortions whenever an ultrasound can detect a “fetal heartbeat,” which can occur as early as six weeks of pregnancy. The law provides no exceptions for victims of rape or incest, and relies on private citizens to enforce the policy via lawsuits against medical providers and others who “aid or abet” the procedure, with a $10,000 minimum penalty.
“For far too long, the public debate around abortion, contraception and related reproductive matters has thrust government into the center of restrictions on the bodily autonomy of women and girls,” Rabb wrote in his sponsorship memo. “Rarely is there a meaningful dialogue around public policy focusing on the personal responsibility of cisgender men in this sphere.”
A number of Pennsylvania Republicans were quick to speak out against the proposal, including state Rep. Barb Gleim, who said in a Facebook post that “as a fourth-born child myself, I would have never existed under this law and neither would so many others.”
“If there was any doubt that today’s progressive left have utterly and completely disregarded your personal medical freedom, then let this be the nail in the coffin,” she wrote. “This bill will never see the light of day as long as Republicans control the House, but I wanted you all to be aware how quickly policies that belong in Communist China would become the norm here if Democrats seized total control of state government.”
Immediate Backlash and Support
Within hours of publishing the memo, Rabb said he received “some of the most hateful and threatening emails and voicemails over my five years in office.”
“But I have also received the affirmation and support of people in and far beyond my district who hold reproductive rights sacrosanct,” he said in a statement. “Not to mention people who see the value in satire to raise awareness around serious issues such as this.”
Rabb said he plans to hold a joint town hall with Rep. Kelly Cassidy, his counterpart in Illinois, to discuss each of their proposals along with the broader issue of reproductive legislation at the state level. Her proposal is dubbed TExAS, The Expanding Abortion Services Act.
“As long as state legislatures continue to restrict the reproductive rights of cis women, trans men and non-binary people, there should be laws to address the responsibility of men who impregnate them,” he said in a statement. “My sincere hope in introducing this legislation is that my colleagues in the General Assembly consider the egregiously gendered double standard when it comes to curtailing reproductive health care as it applies to women.”
Kate Elizabeth Queram is a senior reporter for Route Fifty and is based in Washington, D.C.