The Department of Human Services (DHS), the Women’s Health Caucus, and representatives from Planned Parenthood affirm that Pennsylvanians should feel safe in accessing the full scope of reproductive, perinatal, and maternal health care available in the commonwealth, and that supports are in place to help mothers and birthing people access necessary reproductive and perinatal care. September 21, 2022 (Commonwealth Media Services photo).
State officials, lawmakers, and abortion advocates gathered in the Capitol on Wednesday to discuss abortion access in the commonwealth and highlight the need to address disparities in maternal health care in a post-Roe landscape of increasing abortion bans and restrictions.
“It shouldn’t be this way, not in America, not in 2022,” Sara Goulet, a special advisor to the Department of Human Services said, adding that she is “heartbroken and horrified” by the wave of abortion bans and restrictions denying, and creating barriers to care for pregnant people across the country.
“This type of health care is something that we all are entitled to no matter where we live. It provides safety, dignity, and the ability to be healthy and thrive,” Goulet said.
As more than a dozen states have moved to ban or restrict access to abortion care following the U.S. Supreme Court’s June 24 decision overturning Roe v. Wade, Goulet said that it’s important that Americans talk about what it is like to experience pregnancy in the U.S.
“We need to be clear and honest about the reality of being pregnant and having a baby in the U.S.,” Goulet said. “In America, we talk a lot about valuing life but it is more dangerous to be pregnant and giving birth here than in any other developed country in the world.”
The United States is currently the only industrialized nation where pregnant women are dying at a higher rate than they were 25 years ago, according to the World Health Organization.
A recent study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that four out of five pregnancy-related deaths could have been avoided.
“We can do better, we must do better,” Goulet said.
Also in attendance on Wednesday was state Rep. Mary Jo Daley, D-Montgomery, who serves as chairperson of the House Women’s Health Caucus.
Daley echoed Goulet’s comments, adding that “one of the primary injustices of the attack on the right to abortion is the entirely inadequate maternal health safety net we have in Pennsylvania.”
“It can be a challenge for women to find quality, consistent care throughout their pregnancies and to access the physical and behavioral health care they need after giving birth or after a pregnancy ends,” Daley said.
Lawmakers and Wolf administration officials touted the administration’s April 2021 decision to opt-in to a federal Medicaid extension program that increased the length of maternal healthcare coverage from 60 days to one year, as a step in addressing the commonwealth’s maternal mortality rate of 82 deaths per-100,000 live births.
Other state lawmakers expressed concern over the number of care providers available to communities across the state.
Delaware County “is now considered a maternal health desert and that’s because of the problems we’re having with our health care system,” Sen. Tim Kearney, D-Delaware, said. “Currently, right now, women have to travel as much as 20 miles to get to see a doctor for obstetrics.”
Kearney said that the distance between care facilities and communities, especially in communities of color, can lead to a lack of prenatal and maternal care as well as a lack of accessible abortion care.
“It’s imperative for racial justice, that we defend reproductive care in Pennsylvania and expand maternal health supports and services for women of color,” Kearney said.
“All Pennsylvanians must feel safe in accessing the full scope of reproductive, perinatal, and maternal health care. Together, we will keep working to do better to support healthy mothers and babies, families and communities,” state Sen. Carolyn Comitta, D-Chester, said.
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