In Pittsburgh, abortion providers, advocates work to protect access in uncertain times

‘Our slogan is, ‘May the struggle continue,’ because we know that this is a long-term fight and we are prepared to fight,’ one advocate said

By: - February 2, 2022 11:42 am

Members of the Abortion Defense Committee rally in Schenley Plaza to commemorate 49 years of Roe V. Wade on Jan. 22, 2022 (Pittsburgh City Paper photo).

By Jordana Rosenfeld

PITTSBURGH — Abortion advocates in Pittsburgh and across the country gathered late last month to mark the 49th anniversary of  Roe v. Wade, the U.S. Supreme Court decision that guaranteed the right to an abortion.

Local abortion providers and advocates wondered: Could it be the last?

“It’s a pretty hostile time for sexual and reproductive health care and for abortion care,” Sydney Etheredge, the new CEO of Planned Parenthood of Western Pennsylvania, said.

The Supreme Court heard arguments on Dec. 1 of last year in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, on the Mississippi state law banning almost all abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy. If the court allows the Mississippi ban to stand, experts believe it will significantly weaken or even overturn Roe.

“It is really important that we stay focused on understanding that these bans like what we’re seeing in Mississippi could potentially happen in a state like Pennsylvania,” Etheredge said.

Without Roe, states will be free to pass abortion bans as they see fit. In October 2021, the Guttmacher Institute, a national reproductive health policy organization, published a list of 26 states “certain or likely to ban abortion without Roe.

Although neighbors Ohio and West Virginia made the “certain” or “likely list,” Pennsylvania did not.

However, as Etheredge told Pittsburgh City Paper in January, “being at the national [Planned Parenthood] office makes you realize you can never take a good state for granted.

“There could be a shift in policies, there could be a shift in the political environment,” she said.

Etheredge’s words proved prescient last week when the Pennsylvania Senate’s Health and Human Services Committee approved a bill seeking to amend the state constitution to specifically declare that people in Pennsylvania do not have the constitutional right to have an abortion.

How help those in need of abortion services in Western Pa.

Where to donate:
Western Pennsylvania Fund for Choice
Donations support patients of Allegheny Reproductive Health Center, which provides abortion care to patients in Western Pa., Ohio, and West Virginia.
wpafundforchoice.org

Vivian Campbell Fund
Donations support patients of Planned Parenthood of Western Pennsylvania.
tinyurl.com/PPVivian

Where to receive health care:
Allegheny Reproductive Health Center
alleghenyreproductive.com
412-661-8811

Planned Parenthood of Western Pennsylvania
plannedparenthood.org/planned-parenthood-western-pennsylvania
1-800-230-7526

Under the law, proposed constitutional amendments must pass, in identical form, in consecutive legislative sessions, and then be approved by the voters at a statewide referendum. There is no role for the executive branch, which means the governor cannot veto such a proposal.

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Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat, a former Planned Parenthood volunteer,  has vowed to veto any legislation restricting reproductive rights in the state, and the proposed anti-abortion amendment is just the latest in the GOP’s ongoing strategy to bypass that commitment.

And many worry that with his term coming to an end, a Republican governor — and thus, a potential anti-abortion governor — could be in Pennsylvania’s future.

Although abortion rights are imperiled by legislative and political attacks, abortion providers and advocates in Pittsburgh want to make it clear that you can still get an abortion here and financial assistance is available.

Concerned Pittsburghers, advocates said, can help by donating to abortion funds, supporting local abortion providers and their workers, knowing the facts, and being ready to mobilize politically to stop the proposed constitutional amendment.

There are multiple places in Pittsburgh that provide abortions, including two clinics. They are Planned Parenthood of Western Pennsylvania Downtown, which performs abortions in the first 18 weeks, and Allegheny Reproductive Health in East Liberty.

Crystal Grabowski, an abortion care worker, said those four providers serve all of Western Pennsylvania and then some. “We get people from State College,” Grabowski told City Paper. “We get patients from eastern Ohio and northern West Virginia. They’re coming from pretty far away and that’s a pretty small number of providers for a very large area.”

One of the many challenges of abortion access, Grabowski says, is that it’s very time sensitive. Roe protects abortion rights only before a fetus becomes able to live outside the womb, but also, the further along one’s pregnancy is, the more expensive the procedure.

Grabowski said that abortion prices in Pittsburgh vary based on the provider and the patient’s situation, but range from $435 to $500 for an early procedure and can go past $1,000 depending on how far along they are. Both Planned Parenthood and Allegheny Reproductive Health Center offer need-based financial assistance to patients.

So what should Pittsburghers who care about abortion access do to help protect it?

Grabowski, who is on the board of directors of Western Pennsylvania Fund for Choice, Allegheny Reproductive Health’s abortion fund, recommended that Pittsburghers concerned about abortion access donate to an abortion fund.

“The abortion funds are already starting to campaign pretty hard for fundraising because we’re gonna need a lot of money, because people are driving further, they can’t work cause of the pandemic, they have to stay home with their kid because of schools, there’s just so many things going on that need is so incredibly high,” she said.

“If Roe v. Wade falls, we could see a ban in Ohio, which means that a lot more Ohio patients will need to come [to Pittsburgh],” she said. More people seeking appointments means longer wait times and higher costs for everyone, according to Grabowski, who adds, “Financial assistance is going to be needed more than ever.”

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Just as patients will need more support so will abortion providers, Grabowski added.

“It is rough working in this field right now,” she said. “Supporting Allegheny Reproductive Health Center, supporting Planned Parenthood as organizations and also their workers is going to be really necessary.”

Grabowski also wants to make sure people know the facts.

“Misinformation is so rampant with this topic,” she said. “We need to get the facts out there: you can obtain abortions in Pittsburgh, financial assistance is available, stay away from crisis pregnancy centers. There are people who will support you,” Grabowski says.

Despite transparency and privacy concerns, anti-abortion group continues to receive taxpayer dollars

Crisis pregnancy centers, which can be found in Pittsburgh, are what abortion-rights advocates call “fake clinics,” and are typically run by churches, religious groups, and other anti-abortion organizations. Their mission, according to abortion-rights advocates is to advance an anti-abortion, often religiously motivated, agenda rather than provide sound, medical advice.

Luna Rooney of the newly formed Abortion Defense Committee, a Pittsburgh organization made up of students, abortion advocates, and workers told Pittsburgh City Paper that it’s important for local supporters of reproductive rights to brace themselves for the long haul.

“Our slogan is, ‘may the struggle continue,’ because we know that this is a long term fight and we are prepared to fight,” said Rooney, whose organization recently held a rally in Schenley Plaza to commemorate 49 years of Roe V. Wade. “The right to abortion is the right to health care.”

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In terms of state-level politics, Rooney and Grabowski recommend keeping an eye on both this fall’s gubernatorial election and the proposed constitutional amendment.

Wolf who will leave office in January 2023 after serving the constitutional maximum of two, four-year terms, has been a strong supporter of abortion rights in the commonwealth.

“Since taking office, there have been six different anti-abortion bills introduced by members of Pennsylvania’s General Assembly,” Wolf said in a Jan. 25 statement. ”I have vetoed three of those bills placed on my desk for signature and vowed to veto the rest.”

Although some Pennsylvania Republicans have pivoted to using constitutional amendments to advance their agenda in lieu of gubernatorial support, abortion advocates will miss the democratic governor’s commitment to vetoing anti-abortion legislation.

“Wolf’s veto pen has stopped multiple attacks on abortion access in Pennsylvania,” Signe Espinoza, the interim executive director of Planned Parenthood Pennsylvania Advocates told online news site City & State Pennsylvania. “Without that commitment to block all the anti-abortion attacks we’ve seen, barriers to accessing care would be much harder than they already are for most people in the state.”

In addition to working to elect a governor committed to protecting reproductive rights in Pennsylvania, Grabowski and Rooney say Pittsburghers need to be ready to mobilize to reject the proposed constitutional amendment. “This is definitely something we should all be talking about in case it gets far — we might need to be very vocal and take actions by 2023,” says Grabowski. “The best thing right now is to be informed and be ready.”

Jordana Rosenfeld is a reporter for Pittsburgh City Paper, where this story first appeared.

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