By Susan Frietsche, Senior Staff Attorney, Western Pennsylvania office of the Women's Law Project
Over the last four decades, we’ve watched anti-choice advocates shift focus from criminalizing abortion to an incremental strategy of passing medically unnecessary regulations designed to force abortion clinics to close down. These days, the fight for abortion access is won and lost state by state, restriction by restriction, clinic by clinic.
In the last few years, like in other states across the country, anti-choice lawmakers in Pennsylvania successfully passed a record number of restrictions. The result of installing financial and logistical obstacles that stand between poor and working women and abortion is predictable: It has stratified access to safe and legal abortion by class and race, as it was before Roe v. Wade. The goal is to render our Constitution a paper tiger.
Today, only 13 women’s health clinics offer surgical abortion services in all of Pennsylvania.
Like all states with severe abortion restrictions, Pennsylvania consistently scores low in surveys of the general health of women and children. In this climate, it would be easy to decide that merely defending women and girls against these ongoing legislative attacks is enough.
But we know that it is not.
That’s why, last year, Pennsylvania lawmakers formed the bipartisan Women’s Health Caucus. In December, the Caucus announced the first wave of the Pennsylvania Agenda for Women’s Health, a pro-choice, pro-active legislative package designed to protect and promote women’s health and economic security.
The Pennsylvania Agenda for Women’s Health is built on the premise that reproductive freedom is the bedrock of women’s health and a prerequisite for women’s equality, but it also recognizes that there is no silver bullet. Many of the bills included in the Pennsylvania Agenda for Women’s Health were developed based on the findings of our 2012 report, Through the Lens of Equality: Eliminating Sex Bias to Improve the Health of Pennsylvania’s Women. Bills that are part of the Agenda include calls to assess the needs of women veterans, enhance equal pay protections, increase eligibility for breast and cervical cancer screenings, deter intimate partner harassment, and more.
The Agenda also includes proactive bills on access to abortion, such as the Patient Trust Act, which seeks to protect doctors from being forced by legislative mandate to lie to their patients. A report from the National Partnership for Women & Families, Bad Medicine: How a Political Agenda is Undermining Women’s Health Care, reveals that many laws that interfere in the relationship between patients and health care providers specifically target doctors who provide abortion care.
Doctors aren’t dummies. They don't need politicians to tell them what they can and can't say to patients, or how to administer tests and treatments. The Patient Trust Act will protect women seeking abortion from being falsely advised, for example, that an abortion will lead to breast cancer.
So far, more than a dozen proposals have been announced; three bills have already passed. Earlier this year, legislation addressing so-called revenge porn and a resolution to study public benefits for working-families were passed. Two weeks ago, amid vocal constituent support, lawmakers unanimously passed a bill to stop the eviction of domestic violence victims for calling 911. Significantly, during this same year, not one pending anti-abortion measure moved an inch while the PA Agenda for Women’s Health has been in play.
We hope this effort serves as an example for other states — both in terms of model policies that can be adapted elsewhere, and the determination of Pennsylvania advocates to proactively fight for equality for women and girls.Back