Pennsylvania state laws and regulations that affect your medical practice
1. What is the public policy regarding the right to abortion in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania?
(a) Rights and Interests: It is the intention of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to protect the life and health of the woman subject to abortion and to protect the life and health of the child subject to abortion. It is the further intention to foster the development of standards of professional conduct in a critical area of medical practice, to provide for development of statistical data and to protect the right of the minor woman voluntarily to decide to submit to abortion or to carry her child to term.
( b ) Construction: In every relevant civil or criminal proceeding in which it is possible to do so without violating the Federal Constitution, the common and statutory law of Pennsylvania shall be construed so as to extend to the unborn the equal protection of the laws and to further the public policy of this commonwealth encouraging childbirth over abortion.
18 Pa. C.S.A. § 3202
2. What considerations must be made by a physician prior to performing an abortion?
(a) Abortion prohibited: No abortion shall be performed except by a physician after either:
(1) the physician determines that, in his best clinical judgment, the abortion is necessary; or
(2) the physician receives what he or she reasonably believes to be a written statement signed by another physician, certifying that in this referring physician's best clinical judgment the abortion is necessary.
(b) Requirements: Except in a medical emergency where there is insufficient time before the abortion is performed, the woman upon whom the abortion is to be performed shall have a private medical consultation either with the physician who is to perform the abortion or with the referring physician. The consultation will be in a place, at a time and of a duration reasonably sufficient to enable the physician to determine whether, based on his best clinical judgment, the abortion is necessary.
( c ) Factors: In determining in accordance with subsection (a) or (b) whether an abortion is necessary, a physician's best clinical judgment may be exercised in the light of all factors (physical, emotional, psychological, familial and the woman's age) relevant to the well-being of the woman. No abortion which is sought solely because of the sex of the unborn child shall be deemed a necessary abortion.
(d) Penalty: Any person who intentionally, knowingly or recklessly violates the provisions of this section commits a felony of the third degree, and any physician who violates the provisions of this section is guilty of "unprofessional conduct" and his license for the practice of medicine and surgery shall be subject to suspension or revocation.
18 Pa. C.S.A. § 3204
3. What sort of consent is required before an abortion is performed?
(a) No abortion shall be performed or induced except with the voluntary and informed consent of the woman upon whom the abortion is to be performed or induced. Except in the case of a medical emergency, consent to an abortion is voluntary and informed if and only if:
(1) At least 24 hours prior to the abortion, the physician who is to perform the abortion or the referring physician has orally informed the woman of:
(i) The nature of the proposed procedure or treatment and of those risks and alternatives to the procedure or treatment that a reasonable patient would consider material to the decision of whether or not to undergo the abortion.
(ii) The probably gestational age of the unborn child at the time the abortion is to be performed.
(iii) The medical risks associated with carrying her child to term.
(2) At least 24 hours prior to the abortion, the physician who is to perform the abortion or the referring physician, or a qualified physician assistant, health care practitioner, technician or social worker to whom the responsibility has been delegated by either physician, has informed the pregnant woman that:
(i) The department publishes printed materials which describe the unborn child and list agencies which offer alternatives to abortion and that she has a right to review the printed materials and that a copy will be provided to her free of charge if she chooses to review it.
(ii) Medical assistance benefits may be available for prenatal care, childbirth and neonatal care, and that more detailed information on the availability of such assistance is contained in the printed materials published by the department.
(iii) The father of the unborn child is liable to assist in the support of her child, even in instances where he has offered to pay for the abortion. In the case of rape, this information may be omitted.
(3) A copy of the printed materials has been provided to the pregnant woman if she chooses to view these materials.
(4) The pregnant woman certifies in writing, prior to the abortion, that the information required to be provided under paragraphs (1), (2) and (3) has been provided.
(b) Emergency: Where a medical emergency compels the performance of an abortion, the physician shall inform the woman, prior to the abortion if possible, of the medical indications supporting his judgment that an abortion is necessary to avert her death or to avert substantial and irreversible impairment of major bodily function.
18 Pa. C.S.A. § 3205
4. What procedures must be followed with respect to a pregnant minor?
(a) Except in the case of a medical emergency, if a pregnant woman is less than 18 years of age and not emancipated, or if she has been adjudged an incapacitated person, a physician shall not perform an abortion upon her unless, in the case of a woman who is less than 18 years of age, he first obtains the informed consent both of the pregnant woman and of one of her parents; or, in the case of a woman who is an incapacitated person, he first obtains the informed consent of her guardian. In deciding whether to grant such consent, a pregnant woman's parent or guardian shall consider only their child's or ward's best interests. In the case of a pregnancy that is the result of incest where the father is a party to the incestuous act, the pregnant woman need only obtain the consent of her mother.
(b) If both parents have died or are otherwise unavailable to the physician within a reasonable time and in a reasonable manner, consent of the pregnant woman's guardian or guardians shall be sufficient. If the pregnant woman's parents are divorced, consent of the parent having custody shall be sufficient. If neither any parent nor a legal guardian is available to the physician within a reasonable time and in a reasonable manner, consent of any adult person standing in loco parentis shall be sufficient.
( c ) If both of the parents of guardians of the pregnant woman refuse to consent to the performance of an abortion or if she elects not to seek the consent of either of her parents or of her guardian, the court of common please of the judicial district in which the applicant resides or in which the abortion is sought shall, upon petition or motion, after an appropriate hearing, authorize a physician to perform the abortion if the court determines that the pregnant woman is mature and capable of giving informed consent to the proposed abortion and has, in fact, given such consent.
(d) If the court determines that the pregnant woman is not mature and capable of giving informed consent or if the pregnant woman does not claim to be mature and capable of giving informed consent, the court shall determine whether the performance of an abortion upon her would be in her best interests. If the court determines that the performance of an abortion would be in the best interests of the woman, it shall authorize a physician to perform the abortion.
(e) The pregnant woman may participate in proceeding in the court on her own behalf and the court may appoint a guardian ad litem to assist her. The court shall, however, advise her that she has a right to court appointed counsel, and shall provide her with such counsel unless she wishes to appear with private counsel or has knowingly and intelligently waived representation by counsel.
(1) Court proceedings under this section shall be confidential and shall be given such precedence over other pending matters as will ensure that the court may reach a decision promptly and without delay in order to serve the best interests of the pregnant woman. In no case shall the court of common pleas fail to rule within three business days of the date of application. A court of common pleas which conducts proceedings under this section shall make in writing specific factual findings and legal conclusions supporting its decision and shall, upon the initial filing of the minor's petition for judicial authorization of an abortion, order a sealed record of the petition, pleadings, submissions, transcripts, exhibits, orders, evidence and any other written material to be maintained which shall include its own findings and conclusions.
(2) The application to the court of common pleas shall be accompanied by a non-notarized verification stating that the information therein is true and correct to the best of the applicant's knowledge, and the application shall set forth the following facts:
(i) The initials of the pregnant woman.
(ii) The age of the pregnant woman.
(iii) The names and addresses of each parent, guardian or, if the minor's parents are deceased and no guardian has been appointed, any other person standing in loco parentis to the minor.
(iv) That the pregnant woman has been fully informed of the risks and consequences of the abortion.
(v) Whether the pregnant woman is of sound mind and has sufficient intellectual capacity to consent to the abortion.
(vi) A prayer for relief asking the court to either grant the pregnant woman full capacity for the purpose of personal consent to the abortion, or to give judicial consent to the abortion based upon a finding that the abortion is in the best interest of the pregnant woman.
(vii) That the pregnant woman is aware that any false statements made in the application are punishable by law.
(viii) The signature of the pregnant woman: where necessary to serve the interests of justice, the orphans' court division, or, in Philadelphia, the family court division, shall refer the pregnant woman to the appropriate personnel for assistance in preparing the application.
(3) The name of the pregnant woman shall not be entered on any docket which is subject to public inspection. All persons shall be excluded from hearings under this section except the applicant and such other persons whose presence is specifically requested by the applicant or her guardian.
(4) At the hearing, the court shall hear evidence relating to the emotional development, maturity, intellect and understanding of the pregnant woman, the fact and duration of her pregnancy, the nature, possible consequences and alternatives to the abortion and any other evidence that the court may find useful in determining whether the pregnant woman should be granted full capacity for the purpose of consenting to the abortion or whether the abortion is in the best interest of the pregnant woman. The court shall also notify the pregnant woman at the hearing that it must rule on her application within three business days of the date of its filing and that, should the court fail to rule in favor of her application within the allotted time, she has the right to appeal to the Superior Court.
(g) Except in a medical emergency, no parent, guardian or other person standing in loco parentis shall coerce a minor or incapacitated woman to undergo an abortion. Any minor or incapacitated woman who is threatened with such coercion may apply to a court of common pleas for relief. The court shall provide the minor or incapacitated woman with counsel, give the matter expedited consideration and grant such relief as may be necessary to prevent such coercion. Should a minor be denied the financial support of her parents by reason of her refusal to undergo abortion, she shall be considered emancipated for purposes of eligibility for assistance benefits.
(h) No filing fees shall be required of any woman availing herself of the procedures provided by this section. An expedited confidential appeal shall be available to any pregnant woman whom the court fails to grant an order authorizing an abortion within the time specified in this section. Any court to which an appeal is taken under this section shall give prompt and confidential attention thereto and shall rule thereon within five business days of the filing of the appeal. The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania may issue such rules as may further assure that the process provided in this section is conducted in such a manner as will ensure confidentiality and sufficient precedence over other pending matters to ensure promptness of disposition.
18 Pa. C.S.A. § 3206
4. Must a married woman notify her spouse that she is about to undergo an abortion?
(a) Yes. In order to further the Commonwealth's interest in promoting the integrity of the marital relationship and to protect a spouse's interests in having children within marriage and in protecting the prenatal life of that spouse's child, no physician shall perform an abortion on a married woman, except as provided in subsections (b) and (c), unless he or she has received a signed statement, which need not be notarized, from the woman upon whom the abortion is to be performed, that she has notified her spouse that she is about to undergo an abortion. The statement shall bear a notice that any false statement made therein is punishable by law.
(b) Exceptions: The statement certifying that the notice required by subsection (a) has been given need not be furnished where the woman provides the physician a signed statement certifying at least one of the following:
(1) Her spouse is not the father of the child.
(2) Her spouse, after diligent effort, could not be located.
(3) The pregnancy is a result of spousal sexual assault which has been reported to a law enforcement agency.
(4) The woman has reason to believe that the furnishing of notice to her spouse is likely to result in the infliction of bodily injury upon her by her spouse or by another individual.
( c ) Medical emergency: The requirements of subsection (a) shall not apply in case of a medical emergency.
18 Pa. C.S.A. § 3209
5. Must a determination of gestational age be made prior to an abortion?
Yes. Except in the case of a medical emergency which prevents compliance with this section, no abortion shall be performed or induced unless the referring physician or the physician performing or inducing it has first made a determination of the probable gestational age of the unborn child. In making such determination, the physician shall make such inquiries of the patient and perform or cause to be performed such medical examinations and tests as a prudent physician would consider necessary to make or perform in making an accurate diagnosis with respect to gestational age. The physician who performs or induces the abortion shall report the type of inquiries made and the type of examinations and tests utilized to determine the gestational age of the unborn child and the basis for the diagnosis with respect to gestational age on forms provided by the department.
18 PA. C.S.A. § 3210
6. May an abortion be performed when the gestational age of the unborn child is 24 or more weeks?
(a) No person shall perform or induce an abortion upon another person when the gestational age of the unborn child is 24 or more weeks.
(1) It shall not be a violation of subsection (a) if an abortion is performed by a physician and that physician reasonably believes that it is necessary to prevent either the death of the pregnant woman or the substantial and irreversible impairment of a major bodily function of the woman. No abortion shall be deemed authorized under this paragraph if performed on the basis of a claim or a diagnosis that the woman will engage in conduct which would result in her death or in substantial and irreversible impairment of a major bodily function.
(2) It shall not be a violation of subsection (a) if the abortion is performed by a physician and that physician reasonably believes, after making a determination of the gestational age of the unborn child that the child is less than 24 weeks gestational age.
( c ) Except in the case of a medical emergency which, in the reasonable medical judgment of the physician performing the abortion, prevents compliance with a particular requirement of this subsection, no abortion which is authorized under subsection (b)(1) shall be performed unless each of the following conditions is met:
(1) The physician performing the abortion certifies in writing that, based upon his medical examination of the pregnant woman and his medical judgment, the abortion is necessary to prevent either the death of the pregnant woman or the substantial and irreversible impairment of a major bodily function of the woman.
(2) Such physician's judgment with respect to the necessity for the abortion has been concurred in by one other licensed physician who certifies in writing that, based upon his or her separate personal medical examination of the pregnant woman and his or her medical judgment, the abortion is necessary to prevent either the death of the pregnant woman or the substantial and irreversible impairment of a major bodily function of the woman.
(3) The abortion is performed in a hospital.
(4) The physician terminates the pregnancy in a manner which provides the best opportunity for the unborn child to survive, unless the physician determines, in his or her good faith medical judgment, that termination of the pregnancy in that manner poses a significantly greater risk either of the death of the pregnant woman or the substantial and irreversible impairment of a major bodily function of the woman than would other available methods.
(5) The physician performing the abortion arranges for the attendance, in the same room in which the abortion is to be completed, of a second physician who shall take control of the child immediately after complete extraction from the mother and shall provide immediate medical care for the child, taking all reasonable steps necessary to preserve the child's life and health.
18 Pa. C.S.A. § 3211
7. What procedures must be followed in the event a child is born alive under any circumstances?
(a) The law of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania shall not be construed to imply that any human being born alive in the course of or as a result of an abortion or pregnancy termination, no matter what may be that human being's chance of survival, is not a person under the Constitution and laws of the Commonwealth.
(b) All physicians and licensed personnel attending a child who is born alive during the course of an abortion or premature delivery, or after being carried to term, shall provide such child that type and degree of care and treatment which, in the good faith judgment of the physician, is commonly and customarily provided to any other person under similar conditions and circumstances. Any individual who intentionally, knowingly or recklessly violates the provisions of this subsection commits a felony of the third degree.
( c ) Whenever the physician or any other person is prevented by lack of parental or guardian consent from fulfilling his obligations under subsection (b), he shall nonetheless fulfill said obligations and immediately notify the juvenile court of the facts of the case. The juvenile court shall immediately institute an inquiry and if it finds that the lack of parental or guardian consent is preventing treatment required under subsection (b), it shall immediately grant injunctive relief to require such treatment.
18 Pa. C.S.A. § 3212
8. How should abortions be reported?
(a) A report of each abortion performed shall be made to the department on forms prescribed by it. The report forms shall not identify the individual patient by name and shall include the following information:
(1) Identification of the physician who performed the abortion, the concurring physician (as required when abortion is performed upon an unborn child of 24 or more weeks gestational age), the second physician if required and the facility where the abortion was performed and of the referring physician, agency or service, if any.
(2) The county and state in which the woman resides.
(3) The woman's age.
(4) The number of prior pregnancies and prior abortions of the woman.
(5) The gestational age of the unborn child at the time of the abortion.
(6) The type of procedure performed or prescribed and the date of the abortion.
(7) Pre-existing medical conditions of the woman which would complicate pregnancy, if any, and, if known, any medical complication which resulted from the abortion itself.
(8) The basis for the medical judgment of the physician who performed the abortion that the abortion was necessary to prevent either the death of the pregnant woman or the substantial and irreversible impairment of a major bodily function of the woman.
(9) The weight of the aborted child.
(10) The basis for any medical judgment that a medical emergency existed which excused the physician from compliance with any provision of this chapter.
(11) The information required to be reported relating to determination of gestational age.
(12) Whether the abortion was performed upon a married woman and, if so, whether notice to her spouse was given. If no notice to her spouse was given, the report shall also indicate the reason for failure to provide notice.
(b) The reports shall be completed by the hospital or other licensed facility, signed by the physician who performed the abortion and transmitted to the department within 15 days after each reporting month.
( c ) When there is an abortion performed during the first trimester of pregnancy, the tissue that is removed shall be subjected to a gross or microscopic examination, as needed, by the physician or a qualified person designated by the physician to determine if a pregnancy existed and was terminated. If the examination indicates no fetal remains, that information shall immediately be made known to the physician and sent to the department within 15 days of the analysis. When there is an abortion performed after the first trimester of pregnancy where the physician has certified the unborn child is not viable, the dead unborn child and all tissue removed at the time of the abortion shall be submitted for tissue analysis to a board eligible or certified pathologist. If the report reveals evidence of viability or live birth, the pathologist shall report such findings to the department within 15 days and a copy of the report shall also be sent to the physician performing the abortion. Intentional, knowing, reckless or negligent failure of the physician to submit such an unborn child or such tissue remains to such a pathologist for such a purpose, or intentional, knowing or reckless failure of the pathologist to report any evidence of live birth or viability to the department in the manner and within the time prescribed is a misdemeanor of the third degree.
18 Pa. C.S.A. § 3214
Copyright Kern Augustine Conroy and Schoppmann, P.C. Used with permission.