Women’s Health Caucus: Choice is crucial, and we will keep fighting anti-choice legislation

As we approach the halfway point of 2021, somehow, we’re still being forced to defend reproductive rights – not just here in Pennsylvania, but across this entire country. 

Abortion is, and always has been, a deeply personal decision. It should be a discussion between patients and doctors – not politicians. Regardless of what the majority party did today in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives by passing House Bills 118 and 1500, the majority of Americans believe in protecting the right of the patient, of preserving Roe v. Wade.

What we are witnessing here – the attempted forced elimination of choice for a pregnant person based on what’s best for the patient – is no longer just a thought experiment. Sixteen states have attempted a ban on abortion before viability. Twenty-two states have laws that could be used to restrict the legal status of abortion.

The Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization case from Mississippi will be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court, challenging Roe v. Wade and potentially critically weakening reproductive rights. If Roe falls, approximately 24 states would immediately ban abortion.

Eroding the right of a patient to choose – in consultation with their doctor – what is in their best interest, is absolutely an attack on reproductive rights. And reproductive rights are human rights. Every person in Pennsylvania and across our country should have autonomy over their own body.

A broad majority of Pennsylvanians support abortion access. Even more recognize that they may have personal feelings about when they think abortion may be legitimate – cases of rape or incest, or when a mother’s life is at risk – but that they can hold a moral position and still not impose their own views on the world.

We must draw the line and ensure that one person's opinion does not get to rule over the health care decisions of others.

As politicians, we don't get to sit in the doctor's examining room and weigh in on the medical decisions that a person can make. But that is exactly what Republicans seek to do in their attempts to erode access to all measures of health care that a pregnant person’s doctor would see fit to discuss with them.

Politicians cannot possibly know the myriad circumstances a pregnant person weighing reproductive health care options is facing when they make an appointment with their doctor. Perhaps continuing a pregnancy would threaten that person’s life because of a medical condition. Perhaps that person is not financially capable of caring for a child. Perhaps that person was raped and doesn't want to carry the pregnancy to term. Perhaps there is some other circumstance bringing that person to consider all options, including abortion.

In those cases, the highly personal decision about what to do should be made by the patient in consultation with the doctor. The legislature should not have a vote. Seeking to legislate with a broad brush what patients can and cannot do with their own bodies is an unconscionable violation of personal privacy and freedoms.

Just passed by Republican majority in the House were H.B. 118, which attempts to shame women and drive up costs of reproductive health care by requiring ritual burial of ectopic pregnancies, zygotes, blastocysts and embryos, and H.B. 1500, which would install barriers to open, honest conversation between a pregnant patient and their physician and disproportionately targets people with Down syndrome.

These bills are steppingstones toward what Republicans have made clear is their ultimate goal: eliminating access to safe, legal abortions. Attacks on reproductive rights are attacks on human rights.

H.B. 904, which passed through Committee on a party-line vote earlier this spring and could be called to a floor vote at any time, is another attempt to eliminate choice. It would ban abortions after six weeks and would impose harsh criminal penalties on doctors who provide evidence-based necessary care, essentially forcing Pennsylvania physicians to provide substandard care.

Fortunately, Gov. Tom Wolf has promised to veto any such attacks on reproductive health care. But it hasn't stopped Republicans in Pennsylvania's legislature from endlessly beating their drum on this issue. Bluntly, it’s a waste of time, money and effort, especially at a time when we could instead be focusing on meaningful, viable legislation that helps women, families and all Pennsylvanians as we collectively recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Every single person in Pennsylvania is paying the price for this wasteful energy because we know that women play critical roles in Pennsylvania – in our families, our communities, our workplaces, our economy and virtually every single facet of our society.

Sadly, but frankly, we fear the purpose of this latest pursuit of anti-choice legislation is about scoring political points at the expense of truth.

But here is the ultimate truth: Patients have a right to privacy. A pregnant person has a right to health care. What brings a person to their doctor's office is none of your business or mine. The patient and doctor should decide what is best. That’s why we consult medical experts (and not politicians), because doctors and nurses and health care professionals have the training, education and credentials to help us make our best decisions.

If you are ever faced with an unwanted or nonviable pregnancy, make no mistake: You have the right to choose how to handle it. The ultimate decision must be yours, and we will fight to ensure that remains true.