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House Bill 1948 updates Pennsylvania’s laws to be in line with the will of most Americans as well as medical advancements that reveal the baby’s ability to feel pain and live outside the womb.
Specifically, House Hill 1948 bans dismemberment abortion, which ends the life of the unborn baby by tearing off one limb at a time and increases the risk of injury to the mother, is used in over 1,500 abortions in Pennsylvania each year. It also bans abortions after 20 weeks, when the baby can feel pain and risks to the health of the mother increase significantly.
The legislation now heads to the Senate, where a similar bill, Senate Bill 888, has also been introduced.
“This vote clearly indicates that the vast majority of Pennsylvania’s representatives are committed to protecting unborn children. We thank them for this important vote that upholds the dignity of of all human life,” said Fran Viglietta, Director of Social Concerns.
Here is a breakdown of the vote by diocese. Thank your legislator for their “yes” vote!
Kathy Rapp (Sponsor)
ARCHDIOCESE OF PHILADELPHIA
The Pennsylvania Senate Judiciary Committee hosted a hearing this week regarding the legality and constitutionality of House Bill 1947. The measure, passed the Pennsylvania House of Representatives in April, proposes to remove the criminal statute of limitations (SoL) for childhood sexual abuse and raise the civil SoL from age 30 to 50 moving forward. It also retroactively opens the civil SoL from survivor’s age 30 to age 50.
Experts on Pennsylvania’s constitution presented their opinions to Judiciary Committee members with a particular focus on the retroactive provision of the bill. “The purpose of today’s hearing is not to hear about those facts (that child abuse occurred)” emphasized committee chairman, Sen. Stewart J. Greenleaf (R-Bucks, Montgomery). “These matters are highly complex and I expect that this committee will require ample time to carefully consider today’s testimony and weigh each side.”
Six individuals testified, including Attorney General Kathleen Kane; Bruce Castor, Solicitor General, Office of Attorney General; Bruce Antkowiak, Professor of Law at Saint Vincent College; Cary Silverman, partner in the Public Policy Group with Shook Hardy & Bacon; Stephen Mikochik, Emeritus Professor of Constitutional Law at Temple Law School in Philadelphia, Visiting Professor of Jurisprudence at Ave Maria Law School in Florida; and Marci Hamilton, Academic Director, CHILD USA. Several other experts offered written opinions that were entered into the record.
A video of the hearing and links to the testimony are available on Sen. Greenleaf’s website.
Bruce Castor, Solicitor General in the Office of Attorney General, argued “the retroactivity provisions of House Bill 1947 would violate the Remedies Clause of the Pennsylvania Constitution.” He explained that he reviewed the opinions of various legal scholars on both sides of the question in reaching this conclusion. Should the bill become law and face a court challenge on the issue, the Office of Attorney General would be charged with defending the question of constitutionality on behalf of the Commonwealth.
Almost all of the testifiers agreed with Castor, citing many of the same Pennsylvania court cases. Bruce Antkowiak, Professor of Law at Saint Vincent College, concluded, “Unless the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania abandons a line of precedent reaching back to a time before the Civil War,” the sections that revive time-barred claims will fall under constitutional challenge.
“My conclusion is that over 150 years of Pennsylvania law is consistent and unequivocal on this point: reviving a civil claim for which the statute of limitations has run impermissibly interferes with a vested right and violates the Remedies Clause of the Pennsylvania Constitution,” said attorney Cary Silverman. He further noted that the Pennsylvania Constitution in Article I, Section 11, contains a provision known as the Remedies Clause. The provision does not permit the General Assembly to eliminate certain fixed rights, including the right to bring an accrued claim or the right to assert an established defense.
Silverman, a partner at Shook, Hardy & Bacon LLP law firm and an adjunct professor at George Washington University Law School, was asked by the Insurance Federation of Pennsylvania and the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference to closely examine the issue.
Marci Hamilton, a strong proponent of retroactive revivals of civil statutes of limitation, disagreed. She testified that in her opinion, statutes of limitation are procedural and not substantive and therefore would be considered by the courts to be constitutional. Hamilton is also a plaintiff’s attorney who has represented many sexual abuse victims in cases against the Catholic Church around the country and here in Pennsylvania.
It is expected that the Senate Judiciary Committee will consider HB 1947 for a vote in the coming weeks. Read more about the Church’s serious concerns about this legislation and how to contact your state Senator through the Catholic Advocacy Network.
Every new parent has felt overwhelmed. But some new parents, like those suffering from mental illness or domestic abuse, despair to the point of abandoning their child. To them, this may seem like the only choice. Unfortunately, many do not know about Safe Haven program, designed to help parents who feel this anguish.
In Pennsylvania, distressed parents can safely and legally leave a newborn (up to 28 days old) with hospital or police personnel without fear of prosecution for abandonment. If a baby is dropped off at a location other than a hospital or police station, parents could face charges for endangering the child.
At a hospital or police station, it is certain that medical staff will provide care for the baby until a good home can be found through the children and youth agency. Safe Haven laws offer relief to despondent parents who can be assured that the child is in safe hands.
As long as the baby shows no signs of neglect or abuse, parents have the option to remain anonymous. While they are not obligated to answer any questions, parents are encouraged to complete a questionnaire regarding known family medical history so that the child can benefit from this information as they age.
Since the Pennsylvania law was enacted in 2003, it has saved 27 babies. Yet there have also been heartbreaking stories of newborn babies discovered in dumpsters, toilets, and plastic bags along roadsides. If more people learn about it, imagine how many more newborns can be saved from a tragic demise.
Help increase public awareness of this important alternative by spreading the word about Pennsylvania’s Safe Haven program.
For more information, visit:
By Jennifer Southerton, PCC Intern and Student at DeSales University
The Senate Judiciary Committee today was scheduled to hear from several witnesses on whether House Bill 1947 violates Pennsylvania’s Constitution, which prohibits the General Assembly from retroactively altering statutes of limitations to revive causes of action that have expired.
“I applaud this Committee for its care in developing legislation to protect victims of childhood sexual abuse and striving to do so in a manner that is consistent with the Pennsylvania Constitution,” said attorney Cary Silverman. “Based on my examination of Pennsylvania law, it is my opinion that H.B. 1947, to the extent it would revive time-barred civil claims, violates the Remedies Clause.”
Silverman, a partner at Shook, Hardy & Bacon LLP law firm and an adjunct professor at George Washington University Law School, previously testified before state legislatures on bills that would retroactively eliminate or extend a statute of limitations. He was asked by the Insurance Federation of Pennsylvania and the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference to closely examine the issue.
“My conclusion is that over 150 years of Pennsylvania law is consistent and unequivocal on this point: reviving a civil claim for which the statute of limitations has run impermissibly interferes with a vested right and violates the Remedies Clause of the Pennsylvania Constitution,” Silverman wrote.
Silverman explained that the Pennsylvania Constitution in Article I, Section 11, contains a provision known as the Remedies Clause. The provision does not permit the General Assembly to eliminate certain fixed rights, including the right to bring an accrued claim or the right to assert an established defense.
Silverman cited multiple court cases as far back as 1908 and as recent 2008 that reaffirm the protections offered by the Remedies Clause. Silverman said, “There is no inconsistency in these decisions. Individually and collectively, they stand for the proposition that the General Assembly cannot eliminate accrued claims or defenses.”
The PCC is not opposed to eliminating the statute of limitations for criminal prosecutions. We can all agree that anyone who sexually abuses a child should be punished by the law.
However, the PCC is opposed to a provision in the bill that would allow retroactive civil lawsuits against private and religious entities. The lawsuits, many of which would be impossible to defend, could lead to the closure of parishes, schools and ministries that serve today’s Catholics, who are in no way responsible for abuse that occurred decades ago.
The Catholic Church has learned hard lessons regarding child sexual abuse and has taken responsibility for the abuse that has occurred within its ranks. The dioceses across Pennsylvania have implemented changes that offer assistance to abuse survivors and affirm that they are not at fault for the crimes committed against them.
The Church has also taken great strides to protect children and provide financial assistance for services for survivors and their families, no matter how long ago the crime was committed, and for as long as necessary. To date, Pennsylvania’s dioceses have spent more than $16.6 million to provide compassionate and supportive victim assistance to individuals and families.
Today, the Church is a leader in ensuring that children are protected. In 2002, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops issued its Charter to Protect Children and Young People, requiring education, reporting and training in an effort to stop child abuse.
Today, the Catholic dioceses of Pennsylvania require:
For more information, please go to www.pacatholic.org.
As the understanding around the particulars of House Bill 1947 grows, many have questioned the disparate treatment of public entities (like public schools and government) and non-profit or private entities (like Catholic parishes and schools).
Simply put, there remains in the bill inequitable treatment of public and private institutions, like schools. Non-public schools and non-profits will be exposed to retroactive claims dating back decades, while public entities can only be sued for abuse that occurs in the future. Private organizations could be sued for acts that occurred as long ago as the 1960s, while public schools and other public entities would only be liable moving forward. Further, there is a separate, much higher standard of proof for public entities as well as monetary caps on how much public schools can be sued for, while no such caps exist for non-profit entities. Send a message to your elected officials about House Bill 1947 today.
Some raise the example of Penn State as a public school that can and has been sued. Although Penn State receives government funding, it is not considered a government institution and would therefore not be protected by sovereign immunity.
HB 1947 treats public and private entities very differently, despite the fact that over 80% of Pennsylvania’s children attend public schools and the fact that child abuse has been recognized as an evil that exists in every aspect of society. Here is a much closer look at the two classes of victims created by HB 1947:
Because of its gravity, sexual abuse of children must be dealt with comprehensively and fairly. Any legislative remedy must protect all children, not simply penalize some institutions.
The following commentary by Wilmington attorney Stephen E. Jenkins appeared in the Philadelphia Inquirer on June 5.
Pennsylvania House Bill 1947, which has now been sent to the Pennsylvania Senate, would largely eliminate the statute of limitations relating to allegations of child sexual abuse by private parties. Among other things, it would allow civil claims for abuse to be brought at any time until a victim is 50 years old. In addition, some – but not most – victims will be allowed to sue for abuse that happened decades ago.
Many politicians and plaintiffs’ lawyers say that this represents long-needed “reform” and “justice.” I have a different perspective.
I was the volunteer attorney for a variety of Catholic institutions in Delaware after a similar bill was passed. Far from justice and reform, I saw the devastation it caused and the unfairness it created.
Supporters of HB 1947 claim that not one school, church, or charitable activity has been closed down in states that have passed similar legislation. That claim is wrong.
In Delaware, for example, one excellent inner-city school, St. Paul’s, which served a primarily poor Hispanic population, was forced to shutter its doors because the money it needed to operate went instead to settle lawsuits. Another school, Pope John Paul II, closed only months after the settlement because it had a sudden financial emergency and the money for such emergencies had been taken for the settlement.
Nor did the cuts end there. Ten percent of the diocesan employees were laid off, and Catholic Charities, Catholic cemeteries, and many parishes were required to chip in millions of their badly needed dollars to settle the cases. Those payments reduced the ability of all of them to carry out their ministries.
And where did the money come from? Not from the abusers or wrongdoers, who didn’t pay anything.
Instead, every dime originally came from members of the church who donated it to help the church carry out its ministries. In the end, a significant percentage of the amount paid in settlement went to lawyers and legal costs.
To make matters worse, the Delaware bill was discriminatory. It allowed suits by victims against private institutions and churches but prevented most victims of government employees from suing for past abuse. HB 1947 does the same thing.
The Pennsylvania bill does not permit victims of government employees to sue for past sexual abuse. It also requires a victim of future sexual abuse to prove that a state institution was “grossly negligent,” a much tougher standard.
Yet, by all indications, there is far more sexual abuse of children in government institutions than in private ones. Just a few days ago the Inquirer carried an alarming story about possible sexual abuse and cover-ups occurring in the Plum Borough School District, in Western Pennsylvania. If these claims are true, it will show that at least one school district has failed to put into place the child-protection steps that private institutions started implementing decades ago.
Why the double standard? Why are victims of sexual abuse in a public school any less deserving or important than private-school victims?
If justice demands that private-school victims be given a chance to sue for past injuries, what kind of justice is it that says that public-school victims have no such rights?
Child sexual abuse is evil, and the abusers deserve to be punished for their terrible crimes. But HB 1947 isn’t going to punish a single abuser. Instead, it will almost certainly result in closed schools and reduced ministries, thus hurting the innocent – particularly children and the poor.
Meanwhile, victims who suffered precisely the same horrifying abuse in public schools will get nothing, merely because the abuse was committed by a government employee.
How does such a bill represent justice?
When a pregnant woman is killed, society mourns a double tragedy because two lives are taken.
Fetal homicide laws in 38 states recognize that a child in the womb is worthy of protection, and assert that those who kill an unborn child should be prosecuted as murderers.
Cases of fetal homicide are not as rare as many would like to believe. There have even been heartbreaking instances rather recently here in Pennsylvania.
When a Philadelphia man murdered his pregnant ex-girlfriend in August 2015, he was charged with first degree murder for the death of the woman and third degree murder for the death of the unborn child. While Pennsylvania is one of the 38 states with fetal homicide laws, the punishment often does not fit the crime.
Pennsylvania House Bill 1799, sponsored by state Representative Marcia Hahn (R – Northampton), would aim to strengthen these homicide laws, making those who have committed fetal homicide serve a life sentence for the life they have taken. This would bring the sentencing for the death of the child in line with that of the death of the mother.
As Catholics, we are called to protect life at all stages. Pope Francis says, “One of the serious problems of our time is clearly the changed relationship with respect to life. A widespread and insensitive mentality has led to the loss of the proper personal and social sensitivity to welcome new life.”
This mentality has led Americans to believe a contradiction: while fetal homicide laws acknowledge life in the womb, abortion is still legal in all 50 states.
How can laws claim that killing an unborn child through abortion is acceptable, but killing an unborn child by any other means is an atrocity? How can we view the child as just a clump of cells in one instance, but a human being in the other? In both situations, the life of a human person is deliberately ended. There is clearly an illogical dichotomy in the law.
By supporting House Bill 1799, we are recognizing that life in utero deserves protection. This bill is a brick in a foundation that recognizes the humanity of the unborn. It has already passed overwhelmingly in the House and now faces the Senate. Please urge your senators to support House Bill 1799 and protect life in the womb.
By Jennifer Southerton, PCC Intern and Student at DeSales University
The Catholic Church has learned hard lessons regarding child sexual abuse and has taken responsibility for the abuse that has occurred within its ranks. The dioceses across Pennsylvania have implemented changes that offer assistance to abuse survivors and affirm that they are not at fault for the crime committed against them.
The Church has also taken great strides to protect children and provide financial assistance for services for survivors and their families, no matter how long ago the crime was committed, and for as long as necessary. Children and adults are trained to recognize and report signs of abuse to ensure that the children in our care are safe and secure. To date, Pennsylvania’s dioceses have spent over $16.6 million to provide compassionate and supportive victim assistance to individuals and families. Learn more about the Catholic Church’s assistance for survivors here.
Despite that, state lawmakers are considering legislation that would retroactively nullify the statute of limitations for filing a civil lawsuit alleging childhood sexual abuse. It would force parishes, dioceses, schools, and charities to defend cases that are 20, 30, or 40 years old, long after the perpetrator and possible witnesses have died or clear evidence is gone. It could lead to the closure of parishes, schools, and ministries of today’s Catholics, who are in no way responsible for abuse that occurred decades ago.
As proposed, a retroactive nullification of the civil statute of limitations for sexual abuse cases would open a floodgate for lawsuits against private and nonprofit organizations, but it would not apply to public schools or government agencies. Public entities would still be able to claim sovereign immunity from lawsuits, even though the vast majority of Pennsylvania students — 83 percent — attend public school. Survivors abused in public schools, juvenile detention facilities, or county foster care programs could not bring suits under the legislation.
Measures that nullified the civil statute of limitations in other states drained billions of dollars from current ministries, parishes, schools and dioceses. Bankruptcy and severe debt was the only option for most dioceses in the states with retroactive windows. One parish in Delaware was hit with a verdict of over $3 million. Very few parishes could afford to go to court; none were able to defend themselves on their own. Financially, they had no choice but to join a group settlement without establishing the facts of individual cases.
Sexual abuse is a serious crime that affects every institution and community in Pennsylvania, public and private. Because of its gravity, it needs to be dealt with comprehensively and fairly.
Any discussion of a legislative remedy must protect all children, not simply penalize some institutions.
Everyone who values our parishes, schools and charitable organizations must urge their state lawmakers to oppose unfair changes to the civil statute of limitations. Click here to send a message today.
“I am deeply sorry. God weeps,” said Pope Francis last September after meeting with several sexual abuse survivors during his visit to Philadelphia. All of us in the Catholic community must do what we can to understand the pain, anger, and isolation experienced by a survivor of the crime of childhood sexual abuse.
The news of the grand jury investigation of abuse allegations in the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown has provoked confusion about the Church’s response. Many Catholics may not realize how the dioceses continue to take responsibility for the abuse that occurred in our Church.
For more than a decade, the Catholic community has consistently enforced strict safe environment policies and offered assistance to survivors and their families. While recognizing and respecting that every individual must take his or her own personal journey to heal, the Church is committed to offering assistance.
To date, Pennsylvania’s dioceses have spent more than $16.6 million on victim/survivor assistance services to provide compassionate support to individuals and families. The Catholic Church has a sincere commitment to the emotional and spiritual well-being of individuals who have been impacted by the crime of childhood sexual abuse, no matter how long ago the crime was committed.
One survivor from the Diocese of Pittsburgh said, “After years of hurt and anger, I broke my silence and reached out to this Church for help. What I found surprised me: caring Catholics who weren’t afraid to hear my story and share my pain. They taught me to trust again, restoring my wounded faith. With their help and God’s grace, I experienced the healing I’d longed for. Forgiveness dispelled anger, love washed away pain, and dignity replaced shame. If you or a loved one has been hurt – even if you’ve left the Church – I pray you will reach out to this Diocese for help. You don’t have to carry your burden alone.”
We pray that the Catholic Church’s painful past will contribute to a better understanding of sexual abuse in all sectors of society. We must always encourage anyone who has been abused to report the abuse and seek help immediately by calling the toll-free Pennsylvania ChildLine number at 800-932-0313 or local law enforcement. For more information about available services and support, contact your diocesan victim/survivor assistance coordinator who is available to help victims/survivors make a formal complaint of abuse to the diocese or eparchy, arrange a personal meeting with the bishop or his representative, and to obtain support services for the needs of the individual and families.
Despite these efforts to support survivors of abuse, state lawmakers are considering a proposal that could lead to the closure of parishes, schools, and ministries of today’s Catholics, who are in no way responsible for abuse that occurred decades ago. Learn more about how House Bill 1947 would open nonprofit private organizations like our parishes and schools to costly and unfair lawsuits from decades ago, but gives public schools and government entities a pass.