Women’s Health Caucus: Facts matter in discussion about abortion

HARRISBURG, April 8 – Highlighting the personal health care rights of pregnant individuals, the Democratic members of the Pennsylvania Women’s Health Caucus were appreciative of the opportunity to hear from some expert testifiers but were also concerned with unproven and discredited science shared by some members and testifiers at Thursday’s House Health Committee hearing on abortion.

The first of what’s expected to be multiple hearings on abortion called by House Health Committee Chair Kathy Rapp, R-Warren/Crawford/Forest, Thursday’s subject matter was statistics and fetal development. It featured testimony by Department of Health Executive Deputy Secretary Keara Klinepeter, as well as Dr. Stacy Beck, Dr. Monique Ruberu, Dr. Eric Hussar, Dr. Stephen Emery and Dr. Joseph Castelli.

Testimony lasted five hours and included questions from Republican and Democratic members of the House Health Committee.

“Every year, we in the Health Committee are forced to fend off increasingly creative attempts to restrict access to safe and legal abortion care,” said House Health Committee Minority Chairman Dan Frankel, D-Allegheny.

“Today, for the first time in a decade, I was grateful to have the opportunity to share some facts at a hearing on this important topic. Abortion is one of the safest and most regulated of medical procedures, one that is ultimately a private medical decision for patients in consultation with their doctors and family, if appropriate – not politicians.”

Co-chair of the Women’s Health Caucus Rep. Mary Jo Daley noted testimony from Emery in which he expressed his view that attempts to legislate restrictive abortion access do a disservice to health care professionals working to serve the best interests of patients.

“The action of a doctor treating a patient is deeply complex and always includes significant degrees of individuality,” said Daley, D-Montgomery. “In other words, it’s not to be legislated. Allow the doctors to provide patient-centered care, because all patients are different, and, as legislators, we should not be imposing our views onto them.”

As Beck noted, abortion rates have declined across the nation and in Pennsylvania, which she attributes to increased availability of contraception.

Co-chair of the Women’s Health Caucus and a member of the Health Committee Rep. Morgan Cephas said Pennsylvania has gone from 145 abortion providers in the mid-1970s to just 17 facilities today, most of which are clustered in the southeast corner of the commonwealth.

Additionally, Cephas said maternal mortality – or preventable deaths of birthing people – skyrocketed 21.4% in Pennsylvania between 2013-18.

“Today’s hearing proves all the more how we desperately need meaningful policy that wholly supports and improves women’s health in the commonwealth,” said Cephas, D-Phila. “It’s appalling that some of my colleagues want to deliberate limiting access to abortion care during the COVID-19 public health crisis all while ignoring a real alarming threat and crisis within itself: maternal mortality.

“In an ideal setting, hearings like these would be better utilized to help usher critical legislation that places safety and body autonomy at the pinnacle all the while focusing on saving lives and bolstering access to quality health care.”

Members of the Women’s Health Caucus understand differing opinions on the subject but expressed hope that discussions on evidence-based and patient-centered care will continue without unfounded claims such as abortion reversals.

“Debate about abortion rights too often and too easily delves into individualized agendas and neglects to focus on enhancing women’s health care,” Daley said. “I want to thank Drs. Beck and Emery, as well as Executive Deputy Secretary Klinepeter, for sharing evidence-based health care practices and facts, while also promoting their obvious appreciation for life and providing the best options for their patients and all Pennsylvanians.”