Times Chronicle & Public Spirit
Dems vow to protect abortion access
HATFIELD » The 47th governor of Pennsylvania, and one of the men vying to become the 48th, both made clear vows regarding abortion rights on Friday during a stop in Hatfield.
“Abortion access in Pennsylvania, I just want to assure you, will remain legal and safe as long as I’m governor, and I’m hoping — I know — it’s going to be the same thing with him when he’s the governor,” said Gov. Tom Wolf, as he gestured to state Attorney General Josh Shapiro, who is on the November ballot for governor as Democrat facing Republican nominee state Sen. Doug Mastriano.
In a joint press conference at the HealthSpark Foundation on Broad Street, Wolf and Shapiro spoke alongside state legislators, local officials, and a doctor, discussing the impact they’ve seen since the federal Roe v. Wade case was overturned earlier this year, and vowing to fight any challenges to legal abortions in Pennsylvania.
“I just want to start by stating a fact: Abortion is healthcare. When the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade this year, it was not merely an attack on abortions as health care. It was an attack on the right to bodily autonomy. It was an attack on the right to life. That decision was wrong, and it is already causing real harm to Americans,” said Wolf.
“Barriers to abortion don’t keep pregnant people or children safe. In fact, abortion bans lead to worse health outcomes for pregnant people and worse outcomes for babies. Bans on abortions increase the rates of maternal mortality. Bans on abortion cause financial hardship for families. Bans on abortion put people in abusive relationships at greater
risk,” Wolf said.
The current governor discussed vetoes he’s already issued against legislation seeking to outlaw the practice, and a lawsuit his administration filed just this week against the state legislature.
Shapiro then thanked Wolf for his efforts, asking for applause to acknowledge that Wolf “has always been a leader on protecting reproductive freedom,” before blasting the recent controversial court decision overturning Roe as a “shameful moment for our country.”
“This is the first time in decades that a right has been ripped away from an American,” Shapiro said, recalling a call from his daughter when news of the court decision broke.
“I must say, not as an attorney general but as a father, the idea that our 20-year-old daughter was brought into this world with more rights than she possesses today is not something that sits well with me. And as long as I have the power to do anything about it, here in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, I will make sure that her interests, and the interests of all girls and women out there, are protected here in the commonwealth,” he said.
“For now, as the governor said, abortion remains legal here in the commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania doctors, and health care providers, lean on this: you can continue to provide abortions here in our commonwealth, and we have your back,” he said.
Shapiro vowed that he and his office “will not cooperate with investigations into patients who come to Pennsylvania seeking healthcare,” drawing applause from a crowd of roughly two dozen supporters and health care officials, and said neither he nor Wolf “will extradite healthcare professionals for providing care that is legal under Pennsylvania law.”
During a visit to Pittsburgh just after the Dobbs decision, Shapiro added, a reproductive health center there reported that they were receiving ten times the call volume, likely due to that area of the state bordering Ohio and West Virginia where abortion has since effectively been outlawed.
“Before Dobbs, at that Pittsburgh clinic, they were seeing only a third of their patients coming from out of state. Now, in just the last few weeks, they have seen that number explode to over 70 percent of their patients coming from other states. The bans in other states are not just having an effect on women in those states, but women here all across the commonwealth of Pennsylvania,” he said.
“As your chief law enforcement officer, I will fight any attempt to infringe on your medical practice, and on access to health care,” Shapiro said, before urging anyone with a complaint or possible violation to contact a new hotline established by his office at (717) 705-6938.
Maria Macaluso, executive director of the Norristown-based Women’s Center of Montgomery County, thanked both Wolf and Shapiro for their “strength, leadership, and commitment,” and said the center serves more than 4,000 victims each year — a number that has only grown since the court decision.
“These past few months, we at the Women’s Center have watched, horrified and ashamed, at this assault on the basic and intimate freedoms of women. For those of us working within the domestic violence movement, we witness on a daily basis how violence against women takes many forms, including reproductive abuse, and reproductive coercion,” Macaluso said.
Tactics seen in those situations can include intimidation, threats, physical violence, withdrawing access to birth control, forcing someone to either end or continue a pregnancy against their will, and/or sabotaging birth control, Macaluso said, before citing cases of persons helped by the shelter since the ruling.
“The first was a young teenage girl, 14 years old, just entering high school in the final trimester of her pregnancy. The baby’s father was also her father, who had sexually assaulted her repeatedly throughout her life,” Macaluso said.
“The second was a pregnant woman I spoke with on our hotline, who fled her home in the middle of the night because her partner, her abuser, was threatening to take the infant at birth, and give it away for adoption. And the third was a woman so terrified of her abuser that she engaged in sex to placate him, and to protect their children from his anger. These are just a few of the women whose safety and lives we fail to protect when we take away women’s reproductive decision-making rights,” she said.
Jefferson Health-Abington Hospital physician Dr. Karen Feisullin said the actions of the two executives allow her to save lives by offering a full range of services.
“Pregnant patients may develop complications at any point in their pregnancy which can affect their health, and be life-threatening. Sometimes patients have to make the unimaginable decision to end a desired pregnancy due to these complications,” she said.
“Patients may also seek abortion for personal reasons affecting their lives, their livelihood, and their ability to care for children they may already have,” she said, adding that ‘the overturning of Roe vs Wade is a broad brushstroke ban, that neglects all women and prohibits us from giving our patients the personalized care that they need.”
Feisullin then added that she looks forward to seeing the right to an abortion formalized in the state’s constitution, and introduced state Sen. Judy Schwank, D11th, who said “We’re working on that,” before outlining efforts of the Women’s Health caucus state legislature, citing fellow Sen. Art Haywood, D-4th, Maria Collett, D-12th, and Amanda Cappeletti, D-17th, and state Reps. Liz Hanbidge, D-61st; Joe Ciresi, D-146th; Mary Jo Daley, D148th; and Todd Stephens, R-151st were also on hand to show their support.
“To put it simply, we’re not going to allow neighboring states with antiabortion laws to intimidate our medical personnel. That’s just not going to happen, not now and not ever,” Schwank said.
Schwank then said she and the fellow caucus members would continue to send “a message to all Pennsylvania that abortion is still safe, still legal in the commonwealth, even if a patient comes from another state.” Vowing that the caucus would continue to fight for those services, she then introduced Daley, who said as a co-chair of that caucus, it’s open to anyone, before jokingly calling out Stephens for standing in support; “If I’m not, I will be” a member, Stephens said.
Daley then described testimony she and the caucus have heard since the court ruling that in some cases, abortions may present less danger than continuing a pregnancy, and said underlying conditions can complicate pregnancies, while states that implement abortion bans tend to have higher rates of maternal mortality.
“We must focus on providing the safest environment possible, and not banning an essential healthcare procedure,” she said.
Shapiro and Wolf both said they had not heard of any similar challenges by governors against legislatures in other states at this point, and the latter was sharp when describing his opponent in the governor’s race.
“He has stated, his words not mine, that his ‘Number one priority,’ — his words, not mine — ‘is to ban all abortion in Pennsylvania.’ He has gone a step further to say that a ban, in his mind, leaves, in his words ‘No way for exceptions,’ not in the case of rape or incest, or to save the life of the woman. And then he has gone and taken a third extreme step, and that is that he wants to jail doctors and other health care providers who perform abortion in Pennsylvania.”
Asked whether the state would be an example for the rest of the country, Wolf said “the thing that I am appalled by is that the U.S. Supreme Court has decided that this is something that is up to the states. This is, to me, a fundamental right that should be enjoyed, and has been enjoyed, by all Americans, in every state.”
Asked if he saw differences on the issue between voters in southeastern Pennsylvania versus elsewhere in the state, Wolf said he thought feelings were the same across Pennsylvania.
“I think that the issue is the same all across the state: this is something that the overwhelming majority of Pennsylvanians, regardless of area, support, the idea that the choice, that has to be made, ought to be made by the person. What that choice is, we ought to respect that, but it ought to be made by the person.”
When asked what he thought about having bipartisan support with the presence of Republican Stephens, Wolf said, “I think it’s great: it reinforces the point that the majority of Pennsylvanians want to retain the right to make their own decisions,” he said.
Stephens added his own perspective: “For me, the points were spot on: these decisions are deeply personal, every situation is different, and the government has no place in these healthcare decisions for women.”
“These decisions need to remain between a woman and her doctor. This is the first time, really, that we’re talking about eliminating a right — that’s going the wrong direction, in my mind,” Stephens said.