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• The Pennsylvania state representative who wrote the memo told PolitiFact that he plans to introduce a parody bill requiring vasectomies for men over the age of 40 because it has “no chance of passing.”
• He said his purpose in doing so is to highlight “gendered double standards with regard to reproductive rights” and emphasize the way restrictive abortion laws intrude on women’s bodily autonomy.
A month after a restrictive Texas abortion ban went into effect, a Pennsylvania state representative circulated a sarcastic memo saying he intended to propose a startling bill: all men over 40 or who have more than three kids would be required to get vasectomies.
A Republican colleague and social media users seized on the memo, casting it as a serious plan to forcibly sterilize Pennsylvanians.
State Rep. David Rowe wrote on Facebook, "Breaking: House Democrat introduces forced sterilization/three-child limit bill," with an exploding head emoji. Rowe went on to say, "As a fourth-born child myself, I would have never existed under this law and neither would so many others."
Screenshots of his Facebook post spread widely across social media, including this Instagram post with the caption: "This is not satire, this bill was actually introduced yesterday. PA Democrats are pushing for FORCED sterilization after giving birth to 3 kids. Refusing sterilization will result in a $10,000 fine." It went on to describe a scheme to depopulate the earth.
On Oct. 4, state Rep. Chris Rabb issued a press release clarifying that the proposed bill was "parody legislation," meant to highlight the way abortion laws intrude on women’s bodily autonomy.
The Instagram posts were flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook, which owns Instagram.)
The post refers to Rabb’s outrageous and sarcastic proposal to require men to get a vasectomy within six weeks of having their third child or their 40th birthday, whichever comes first.
The Oct. 2 memo was not explicitly labeled satire, but it contains a promise to "release sweet justice into our households and bedrooms," refers to men as "inseminators" and is peppered with sexual innuendo.
"As we head toward climax on this heated discourse around this delicate matter, we should come together to address it with surgical precision," reads one sentence.
The proposed bill detailed in the memo also contains an enforcement provision explicitly patterned off the Texas abortion law, SB 8. Instead of making a violation a crime punishable by local or state government, it offers a $10,000 reward to any Pennsylvanians who report "scofflaws who have not complied with this statute within the allotted timeframe." It would also allow Pennsylvanians to take civil action against men who wrongfully conceive a child with them.
In his press release issued two days after the memo, Rabb called the proposed bill "parody legislation" and wrote that he was inspired by a bill proposed by Illinois State Rep. Kelly Cassidy, which seeks to lampoon the Texas abortion law by giving Illinoisans the ability to seek $10,000 in damages against anyone who causes an unwanted pregnancy or commits sexual assault or abuse.
Rabb told PolitiFact that he plans to introduce the bill, but only because it has "no chance of passing." His purpose in doing so is to highlight "gendered double standards with regard to reproductive rights."
"My forthcoming bill will never see the light of day. But there are bills like (SB 8) that have just been enacted into law," he said. "If men have problems with the government deciding on their fertility, where’s the outrage on the imposition of government regulations on a woman’s uterus?"
In addition to the de facto ban on Texas abortions, Rabb said that his memo was written in reaction to HB 118, a Pennsylvania bill that passed the Pennsylvania House of Representatives earlier this year. The bill would require that health care facilities treat miscarriages or abortions as fetal deaths and provide the fetus with a burial or cremation, which could translate into increased costs for patients.
Interview, Chris Rabb, Pennsylvania State Representative
PolitiFact, Ask PolitiFact: Did the Supreme Court overturn Roe v. Wade? Sept. 10, 2021
Instagram post, Oct. 5, 2021
Pennsylvania House of Representatives, House Co-Sponsorship Memoranda, Oct. 2, 2021
Illinois House Democrats, Cassidy Introduces TExAS Act, Creates New Civil Penalties on Rapists and Abusers, Sept. 14, 2021
PolitiFact, Pennsylvania bill doesn’t fine women for miscarrying, but costs could trickle down to patients, Jun. 11, 2021