Planned Parenthood PAC endorses former anti-choice lawmaker in W.Pa House race

Emily Kinkead and Adam Ravenstahl (Photo from the Pittsburgh Current).

By Charlie Deitch

PITTSBURGH — Although he’s won re-election to his 20th House District seat in every election since 2010, there’s been one constant for state Rep. Adam Ravenstahl, D-Allegheny: He’s done it without the endorsement of Planned Parenthood of Pennsylvania.

Until this year.

Earlier this week Ravenstahl, who had long identified himself as and voted as an anti-choice legislator, received the endorsement for the first time from Planned Parenthood PA Advocates, the political wing of the women’s health organization.

Last fall, Ravenstahl said he supported abortion access. In September 2019, Ravenstahl told WESA-FM: “I’ve been voting pro-choice for the past few years. I changed my mind.”

But not everyone is happy with the endorsement, especially in Western Pennsylvania. One of those people is Ravenstahl’s challenger in the June 2 primary, attorney Emily Kinkead.

“I’m shocked,” Kinkead told the Pittsburgh Current on Friday. “Shocked because I can’t believe someone saying I’m pro-choice erases a lifetime of anti-choice behavior. In his career, he’s had a chance to vote on legislation around this issue six times. Four of those times, he decided to vote anti-choice.

“You can’t erase all of your actions just by saying the magic words, ‘I am pro-choice.’ He voted pro-choice because that’s how party leadership told him to vote, that’s what he’s always done. He hasn’t been an advocate in any capacity for Planned Parenthood.”

Ravenstahl sees it another way.

“I was not that surprised to receive Planned Parenthood’s endorsement,” he said. “As a member of the Women’s Health Caucus, I have formed a solid and open relationship with Planned Parenthood and appreciate their advocacy. Elected officials are ultimately judged by the votes they make.”

“I think the notion that Planned Parenthood endorsed my candidacy ‘out of nowhere’ and without merit is offensive to what Planned Parenthood fights for every single day,” he said.

Ravenstahl said that his support from Planned Parenthood  was warranted because he “now [has] a record of voting Pro-Choice over the last several votes.”

He said his change from anti-abortion rights to pro-abortion access began at the end of 2017. He said his mind was changed “ironically by the advocacy of Planned Parenthood.” He found the stories from advocates and doctors, “powerful.” He also says his district has shifted viewpoints in the past few years and a state Rep. should change with it.

“Elected officials,” he said. “Are ultimately judged by the votes they make.”

Ravenstahl first voted pro-abortion access on a 2017 bill that would have banned abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy.

He also opposed a bill that would have stopped abortions if a fetus was diagnosed with Downs Syndrome last year. It is worth noting that in 2017 when faced with progressive challengers, many legislators who supported a similar bill the year previous, changed their vote. In the past, Ravenstahl has received a 0% rating from Planned Parenthood in the past. In 2014 and 2015, Ravenstahl received the endorsement of the anti-choice group, LifePAC.

Previously, Ravenstahl voted in favor of legislation that restricted using qualified health plans for abortion services. And in 2011, he voted in favor of a bill that seriously limited abortion access in Pennsylvania, causing many clinics to close.

In the past, Planned Parenthood has endorsed Ravenstahl’s challengers including Michael Devine and Tom Michalow.

“Planned Parenthood is constantly under attack and when they do something like this, it undermines their credibility and it hurts the mission,” Kinkead said.

Reportedly, many people locally, who support Planned Parenthood of Western Pa., were upset about the endorsement and complained to officials at the local office. One person upset with the endorsement complained and received an email response back from Emily Callen, executive director of Planned Parenthood Pennsylvania Advocates.

In it, she supported the endorsement.

“PPPA’s endorsements are made primarily through the lens of legislative advocacy–our imperative is to build a majority that supports sexual health and reproductive freedom,” Callen wrote. “While Ravenstahl’s past record is mixed, since 2017 he has voted with our position 100% of the time and sought our endorsement. It hurts our ability to fight bad policies and advocate for good ones if we back away from candidates who have voted with us.

“The response to this endorsement has been heard loud and clear. We believe that this decision is the right one, but it has also brought to light the need to refine our endorsement process moving forward. We are committed to doing that work.”

When contacted this morning, Planned Parenthood of Western Pennsylvania officials said they were working on a statement. This afternoon they said they would likely have something late today. When that information comes in we will update it here.

Charlie Deitch is editor of the Pittsburgh Current, where this story first appeared.