Since winning GOP primary, Mastriano has kept silent on abortion. Physicians urge him to break it

‘Physicians and our patients need him to be clear where he stands on abortion and not shy away from the fact that he has repeatedly called for abortion to be banned with no exceptions,’ one doctor said

By: and - August 22, 2022 4:04 pm
State Sen. Doug Mastriano, R-Franklin, attends the Senate Education Committee Hearing held at the Pennsylvania Capitol on May 24, 2022 in Harrisburg, Pa. (Photo by Amanda Berg, for the Capital-Star).

State Sen. Doug Mastriano, R-Franklin, attends the Senate Education Committee hearing held at the Pennsylvania Capitol on May 24, 2022 in Harrisburg, Pa. (Photo by Amanda Berg for the Capital-Star).

Decisions about reproductive health — how, when, and why someone receives an abortion — could come down to the results of the November general election in Pennsylvania, prompting advocates to demand clarity from the Republican nominee for governor.

As Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf, also a former Planned Parenthood volunteer, prepares to leave office in January 2023, reproductive health advocates and medical providers have ramped up efforts to promote abortion access in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v. Wade.

As part of a virtual event organized by the Committee to Protect Health Care, a national advocacy organization, on Monday, three Pennsylvania physicians urged Sen. Doug Mastriano for transparency in outlining reproductive health-related policies he would support if elected governor.

Dr. Meaghan Reid, an emergency physician in Chester County and co-state lead for the Committee to Protect Health Care, said Mastriano treats abortion “like a political football instead of an essential component of health care.”

“Instead of using abortion like a throwaway line, physicians and our patients need him to be clear where he stands on abortion and not shy away from the fact that he has repeatedly called for abortion to be banned with no exceptions,” Reid said.

Mastriano, a vocal opponent of abortion access, once called abortion his No. 1 issue, introducing a proposal banning abortions after six weeks, which is before most people know they’re pregnant. He also vowed to move “with alacrity and speed” to outlaw, with no exceptions, abortion once fetal cardiac activity is detected.

During an April debate, Mastriano called legal abortion “a national catastrophe” and promised to push his six-week abortion ban if elected governor. He has also voiced support for punishing doctors who perform the procedure.

“It’s going to be a crime as governor,” he said during the televised forum.

But since he won the Republican gubernatorial nomination in May, Mastriano — who has not responded to repeated requests for comment — has been largely silent on his abortion views.

That silence could deceive voters, Max Cooper, an emergency physician in southeastern Pennsylvania and co-state lead for the Committee to Protect Health Care, told reporters on Monday.

“And the last thing a candidate for Pennsylvania’s highest office should do is withhold information that voters need to make informed decisions,” he said.

After the Supreme Court’s June ruling, Mastriano said: “Roe v. Wade is rightly relegated to the ash heap of history. He added that while its overturn is a “triumph for innocent life,” it should not distract from key issues. 

“As they struggle with all-time record-high inflation, the people care about the price of gas and groceries, as well as out-of-control crime and good-paying jobs — which is exactly why I will prioritize these as governor,” he said in a written statement.

Muhlenberg College political science professor Christopher Borick said Mastriano’s decision to deemphasize abortion in his campaign minimizes the risk that his extreme position could alienate some Republican voters. 

“His position, at least among Republicans, may not cost him a ton of votes. Also, he can’t afford to lose a lot,” Borick said. “It’s an issue that is going to pose challenges for him all the way to Election Day.”

Democratic gubernatorial nominee Josh Shapiro, by contrast, has been clear that reproductive rights in Pennsylvania will not change with him as governor. 

“His position is clear and he’s happy to have this front and center in the race,” Borick said. “It’s more complex, certainly, for Mastriano.”

The Abortion Control Act legalizes the procedure up to 24 weeks of pregnancy in Pennsylvania — unless sought based on the sex of the fetus. Later exceptions can be made for extraordinary circumstances, including when the health of the person giving birth is at risk.

Legislative proposals to curtail access to reproductive health care have circulated in Harrisburg for years. With a Republican-controlled General Assembly, a Democrat as governor has been the sole barrier between tighter abortion restrictions or a ban.

Pennsylvania has collected data on induced abortions since 1975, a requirement under state law. According to 2020 data, the latest available, of the 32,123 abortions performed that year, the majority — 21,934 — occurred eight weeks or less into a pregnancy. None occurred at 24 or more weeks.

Debra Mollen, a psychology professor at Texas Woman’s University, told the Capital-Star earlier this month that elected and appointed government officials have used misinformation about reproductive health and the fight for abortion access to promote restrictions on the procedure.

She cited research conducted at the University of California, San Francisco — The Turnaway Study — which included 1,000 women from clinics in 21 states. For more than 10 years, researchers tracked the experiences of those who received abortions or were denied them because of clinic policies for gestational limits.

According to the study, outcomes were much worse for those compelled to have children — finding that people denied an abortion are more likely to experience complications from the end of pregnancy, including eclampsia, a pregnancy-related high blood pressure disorder, and death. Research also found that they are more likely to stay with an abusive partner, suffer anxiety, lose self-esteem, and have poor physical health. They are also more likely to raise the child alone.

Addressing abortions later in pregnancy, Mollen said the procedures are “relatively uncommon.” 

“The more restrictions we have, the more common it becomes. People have less access, so they get pushed further into their pregnancy when they can — if they can even access abortion at all,” she said. “And of course now, there will be thousands upon thousands and hundreds of thousands of people who are capable of being pregnant who will have no access whatsoever.”

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Marley Parish

Marley Parish covered the Senate for the Capital-Star.

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.