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Abortion advocates in Pennsylvania renew calls for national policy

Carrie Anderson, 38, of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, joined the “Bans Off Our Mife” rally organized by the Women’s March outside of the U.S. Supreme Court Tuesday, March 26, 2024, as the justices heard oral arguments over access to mifepristone, one of two pharmaceuticals used in medication abortion. (Credit: Ashley Murray/States Newsroom)

Kim Lyons, Pennsylvania Capital-Star
May 1, 2024

With Florida’s six-week abortion ban taking effect today and the U.S. Supreme Court currently weighing whether Idaho’s abortion ban should supersede emergency medical treatment, abortion advocates are renewing calls for federal abortion protection, since even in “safe” states like Pennsylvania access to care is limited. 

“People need to understand that we went from having over 100 abortion clinics in Pennsylvania to less than 20 in a relatively short period of time,” state Sen. Amanda Cappelletti (D-Delaware) told the Capital-Star. “So, while the access is legally there, practically speaking for so many Pennsylvanians, they don’t have access to abortion or reproductive health care in general.” 

For instance, while the Pittsburgh area has three abortion providers, the next closest in-state provider is 200 miles to the east in Harrisburg. Abortion is legal up to 24 weeks in Pennsylvania, but a person seeking an abortion has to wait 24 hours after receiving counseling before they can have the procedure, and only physicians — not other healthcare professionals — can perform abortions in the state.

Florida had been a haven of sorts for people seeking abortion in the southeastern U.S., where eight — Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Arkansas, Texas, Oklahoma, Kentucky and Tennessee — of the 16 states with full abortion bans are located. Of the more than 84,000 abortions performed in Florida in 2023, more than 7,700 were provided to women who came from out-of-state.

Cappelletti, who formerly worked in a policy role at Planned Parenthood, noted that abortion clinics in Pennsylvania had seen a sharp uptick in patients from other states seeking care after Roe v. Wade was overturned in 2022. “We’re definitely seeing it here in the southeast, in the Philadelphia clinics,” and the clinics in Allegheny County as well, she added.

The Supreme Court could decide as early as next month whether Idaho’s near-total abortion ban means doctors who might need to terminate a pregnancy during a health emergency would be protected from prosecution under the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act, or EMTALA, a federal law that requires hospitals to treat patients who come to an emergency room regardless of their ability to pay. That includes treatment to prevent serious damage to bodily functions.

If the court decides the law does not provide that protection, then hospitals and doctors in Idaho have said they will have to continue transferring patients out of state for that treatment. 

Cappelletti said in addition to more stress on abortion clinics, she thinks states will begin to see issues with hospital care as well. “Because what we’re talking about what EMTALA is, is people who are heading to the emergency room because something is wrong,” she said, so patients who can’t get the emergency care in their state may also come to Pennsylvania. 

That’s why having federal policy on abortion, rather than each state legislating it differently is so key, Cappelletti and other abortion advocates say.

Kelsey Leigh, of Pittsburgh suburb Mt. Lebanon, has told her abortion story often: In 2016, an ultrasound showed the wanted pregnancy she was carrying was not viable, and she had an abortion. She said she has never doubted or regretted it, but since the Dobbs decision that overturned Roe v. Wade she has thought about what it would have been like to need that care now in a state with restrictions on abortion. 

“I was at a hospital where I was waking up next to somebody who had had a knee surgery and somebody else who had their gallbladder out, I didn’t have protestors yelling at me,” she told the Capital-Star.

“I started speaking out and telling my story to tell people: Look, I only know what I did for myself in that moment. I don’t know what I would have done five years earlier. I don’t know what I would do now or five years from now. And you want that same privacy and protection for your loved ones,” Leigh added.

Mifepristone questions

The Supreme Court also heard arguments in March over whether to roll back the rules over mifepristone, one of two pharmaceuticals used in medication abortions, to what was in place before the FDA began making changes in 2016. If it rules in favor of plaintiffs, the decision could lead to significant changes for doctors and patients.

The two-drug regimen accounted for about 63% of abortions within the United States in 2023, according to a report from the Guttmacher Institute. 

On Tuesday, former President Donald Trump, the presumptive 2024 GOP nominee for president, said in an interview with Time magazine that he would release more details about how he would regulate access to medication abortion if he wins another term. 

Trump said during the interview that he had “strong views” about access to mifepristone, but so far has not said what those views are. He didn’t rule out a nationwide abortion ban during the interview, and on the campaign trail, has boasted about appointing the three Supreme Court justices who played a key role in overturning Roe vs. Wade. 

And Trump said in a video released last month that he believed regulating abortion access should be left up to states.

Biden-Harris campaign manager Julie Chavez Rodriguez said in a statement Tuesday that a second Trump term would be a threat to reproductive rights.

“Simply put: November’s election will determine whether women in the United States have reproductive freedom, or whether Trump’s new government will continue its assault to control women’s health care decisions,” Rodriguez said.

“With the voters on their side this November, President Biden and Vice President Harris will put an end to this chaos and ensure Americans’ fundamental freedoms are protected.”

Pennsylvania Capital-Star is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Pennsylvania Capital-Star maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Kim Lyons for questions: Follow Pennsylvania Capital-Star on Facebook and Twitter.

This article is republished from Pennsylvania Capital-Star under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.