Access to reproductive health care is a fundamental freedom, advocates say in Capitol rally

‘The only reason that it is a political issue today is because it’s been politicized and weaponized by a small group of ultra-conservatives,’ one speaker said.

By: - October 24, 2022 5:43 pm

Dr. Sharee Livingston, chair of the obstetrics and gynecology department at UPMC in Lititz, Lancaster County, speaks at a rally for abortion rights Monday, 10/24/2022, at the Pennsylvania Capitol.

Access to reproductive health care is essential to freedom and equity and those who would restrict it or criminalize it are an extremist minority, advocates said in a rally Monday on the Pennsylvania Capitol steps. 

The event, led by state Rep. Elizabeth Fiedler, D-Philadelphia, featured speakers with Black, Lantinx, and religious perspectives who called on the eight out of 10 Pennsylvanians who support abortion rights to vote in the interest of women.

“Since the Dobbs decision, we have seen millions of women, millions of supporters of all genders, people like yourselves who believe in freedom and bodily autonomy, stand up, register to vote, talk with their friends and family and have challenging conversations not knowing how they will end,” Fiedler said.

“We’re not going to stop when we want abortion freedom, are we?” Fiedler said.

Since the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the Roe vs. Wade decision, which created a national right to abortion, state lawmakers across the country have moved to restrict or ban the procedure, which nearly a quarter of American women will have at some point in their lives.

In Pennsylvania, the General Assembly passed a bill this summer to amend the state Constitution to explicitly state there is no right to abortion. The bill must pass again next session and the proposed amendment could go to voters in a referendum in the spring.

Debasri Ghosh, managing director of the National Network of Abortion Funds, said the restrictions in other states have sent a flood of women from Ohio, Oklahoma, Texas, and elsewhere to Pennsylvania in search of abortion care.

“People [travel] hundreds of miles to get a procedure that is as safe as a root canal. A procedure that often takes a couple of minutes in a clinic or that can be managed safely at home using pills prescribed by a provider,” Ghosh said.

Abortion is a normal, safe, routine part of pregnancy care, Ghosh said.

“The only reason that it is a political issue today is because it’s been politicized and weaponized by a small group of ultra-conservatives who are trying to mobilize their base to take away our autonomy,” Ghosh said.

Dr. Sheree Livingston, the obstetrics and gynecological department chair at University of Pittsburgh Medical Center in Lititz, Lancaster County, said reproductive health care is crucial for people of color, who are three to four times more likely to die in childbirth.  

“As we strive to minimize health disparities gaps, it is important that we provide safe, legal, and essential abortion care. We must keep fighting for this fundamental freedom and basic human right. We demand reproductive justice,” Livingston said.

Francisca Mendez, a member leader of the Latino rights organization Make the Road PA, said banning abortion isn’t about protecting anyone, it’s about control.

Mendez, who spoke in Spanish, and had her remarks translated afterward, listed the instances in which elected officials have allowed children to be harmed in Immigration and Customs Enforcement refugee camps and detention centers. That included instances in which children as young as five years old were separated from their parents at the Mexican border, and when immigration officials attempted to stop a migrant teenager who was pregnant as a result of rape from entering the United States in search of abortion care.

“They are only protecting fetuses. And when the child is born, they abandon them. This is not about protecting life. This is about controlling us and controlling our bodies. Only we decide it should have the option of wanting to be pregnant,” Mendez said.

Abby Tennis, lead minister at the First Unitarian Church of Philadelphia, said the news media often makes it seem as if there is only one religious perspective on abortion

“There are many religious traditions many faithful people, many clergy who believe like me that the choice to have an abortion is not just a deeply personal choice, but it is a fundamental right,” Tennis said.

For some, abortion is a blessing, Tennis said, recounting the story of a congregant who had an abortion when she was young and not prepared to be a parent.

“Her choice at that early point in her life is what made her wonderful family and her full life and career that came later possible,” Tennis said.

For others, abortion was essential to escaping an abusive relationship or a choice between living and dying, Tennis said.

“So my friends, if you are a person who found themselves pregnant at a time in life when you were not ready to become pregnant, please say this aloud with me: Your choice is holy and you are loved,” Tennis said, leading the crowd in a chant.

Lindsey Mauldin, of Planned Parenthood of Southwest Pennsylvania, said the fight to protect access to abortion has been going on in Pennsylvania since the 1980s, and the state’s Abortion Control Act has created burdens for patients and providers.

The effort to ban abortion would have far reaching impacts if successful, threatening privacy in medical and personal matters and leading to higher maternal and infant mortality rates.

“Let’s be clear. Taking away access to abortion will cost individuals their lives. This is not freedom. This is not the Pennsylvania we deserve,” Mauldin said.

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Peter Hall
Peter Hall

Peter Hall has been a journalist in Pennsylvania and New Jersey for more than 20 years, most recently covering criminal justice and legal affairs for The Morning Call in Allentown. His career at local newspapers and legal business publications has taken him from school board meetings to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court and many points of interest between. He earned a degree in journalism from Susquehanna University.