News Abortion

Forced Into An Ultrasound? Just “Close Your Eyes”

Robin Marty

Gee, where have we heard that before?  

Pennsylvania legislators may have decided to put the debate over a mandatory ultrasound bill on hold, but that’s not taking any of the heat off of the state’s governor.  When asked why he supported the intrusive, invasive procedure, Tom Corbett justified his stance, saying it’s not like the women have to look at the darn thing.

Via Talking Points Memo:

The quote in question came after Corbett was asked at a press conference whether “making [women] watch” an ultrasound went “too far.”

“I don’t know how you make anybody watch,” Corbett said. “You just have to close your eyes.”

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Unfortunately, he forgot to remind women that they can just think of England, too.

News Law and Policy

Pennsylvania Women’s Health Caucus Unveils Second Package of Bills

Tara Murtha

State lawmakers unveiled the second wave of bills introduced as part of Pennsylvania’s Agenda for Women’s Health, a pro-active legislative effort designed to address women’s health and economic equality.

Members of Pennsylvania’s bipartisan Women’s Health Caucus unveiled the second wave of bills aimed at addressing women’s health and economic equality at a press conference at the capitol on Tuesday morning.

The Women’s Health Caucus was formed last spring in response to the unprecedented spike in the number of bills restricting women’s access to health-care services in states across the country, including several passed and implemented in Pennsylvania.

Legislators introduced the first wave of their Pennsylvania Agenda for Women’s Health back in December, which addressed pay equity, buffer zones around health-care facilities, increased access to breast cancer screenings, sanitary workplace conditions for breastfeeding mothers, among other initiatives.

The second phase of the agenda features bills designed to curb interference in a patient’s relationship with her doctor, identify health-care gaps for female veterans, fight deep poverty among women and children, ensure widows of state and municipal employees receive fair pensions, and protect more women from sexual harassment.

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Rep. Dan Frankel (D- Allegheny), co-chair of the Women’s Health Caucus, plans to sponsor what he is calling “Patient Trust” legislation.

“We’ve seen efforts across this country to mandate the conversation and medical advice that a physician or another medical professional is going to tell a woman,” said Frankel. “We saw an attempt to do that here in Pennsylvania with the ultrasound bill in the house.”

Frankel is referring to a mandatory ultrasound bill that was introduced in Pennsylvania but shortly thereafter shelved, following backlash to a similar law in Virginia and before the 2012 presidential primary. The bill mandated that doctors position the ultrasound screen close to the patient’s face, and then document for the state whether or not she looked at the screen. At the time, Gov. Tom Corbett (R) defended the bill by advising women to just close their eyes during the procedure.

Sources have told Rewire that they expect conservative lawmakers to revive an effort to pass a similar bill in the near future.

“We shouldn’t be forcing patients to accept being treated in a way that doesn’t help them just to satisfy the political agenda of some legislator,” said Frankel, calling such mandates “bad medicine.”

Frankel’s bill would prevent state-mandated intrusions into the doctor-patient relationship beyond transvaginal ultrasounds. In recent years, several states have introduced and in some cases passed legislation ordering doctors, for example, to advise patients that abortion increases risk of breast cancer and leads to psychological problems, despite evidence to the contrary.

The cascade of anti-science intrusions into the examination room have led to at least one doctor wondering if civil disobedience is the best response, though that action comes with considerable professional risk.

Another new initiative is a resolution to establish a Women’s Veterans Health Care Task Force. The task force will analyze the specific needs, including post-traumatic stress disorder and military sexual trauma, of female veterans in response to increasing awareness of rampant rape in the military and in anticipation of female soldiers returning from Afghanistan.

Rep. Mike Schlossberg (D- Lehigh) is sponsoring SB 2300, a bill that would amend the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act to extend the prohibition on sexual harassment to all employers in Pennsylvania.

“Pennsylvanians might actually be surprised to learn that that is not currently the case,” said Schlossberg. “At the moment, the prohibitions on sexual harassment apply only to companies with four or more employees.”

Meanwhile, Women’s Health Caucus members are still advocating for movement on some of the bills introduced last year as part of the first package.

Sen. Judy Schwank (D-Berks), co-chair of the caucus, is calling for action on SB 1167, a bill intended to deter and punish intimate partner harassment.

“The nature of these acts is particularly personal and malignant,” Schwank wrote in a memo seeking co-sponsorship. “And the abuse can be devastating to victims, who nationally have lost jobs, had relationships with family and friends severely damaged and found themselves stalked by strangers.”

It passed the senate but has been sitting in committee in the house since January.

Another bill that unexpectedly stalled is needed to protect victims of domestic violence by prohibiting municipalities from leveraging local nuisance ordinances to evict them from their homes. The legislation was drafted after a woman living in Norristown (a town a half-an-hour away from Philadelphia) reluctantly allowed an abusive former partner to move back in to her home because she feared calling for help would lead to eviction. After he moved in, he allegedly attacked her and beat her until she was unconscious.

As Rewire reported:

Norristown isn’t the only Pennsylvania municipality with this type of ordinance. According to the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence (PCADV), there are 19 known “disorderly conduct” or “nuisance” ordinances reaching across the Commonwealth, in cities from Pittsburgh to Wilkes-Barre. There are also 59 others known throughout the country.

Though the bill initially had broad support, it stalled after the addition of a controversial and counterproductive amendment. As Rewire noted, “The controversial amendment would prohibit municipalities from enacting mandates requiring employers to provide paid or unpaid leave, such as vacation time or paid sick days, to their employees.”

Advocates say the amendment would work against the victims of domestic violence the bill was designed to protect. It passed the house, but has been sitting in the senate since March.

Some second-wave bills are still being drafted; all seven bills will be introduced within the next few months.

News Politics

Anti-Choice Democrat Inspires ‘Anti-Endorsement’ by National Pro-Choice Groups

Tara Murtha

In the lead-up to the primary for the 13th Congressional district in Pennsylvania, Democratic state Rep. Brendan F. Boyle has been making pro-choice campaign trail promises so contrary to his voting record that it’s inspired NARAL Pro-Choice America and Emily's List to team up to issue what amounts to an anti-endorsement.

In the lead-up to the May 20 primary for the 13th Congressional district in Pennsylvania, Democratic state Rep. Brendan F. Boyle (District 170) has been making pro-choice campaign trail promises so contrary to his voting record that it’s inspired two national pro-choice organizations to team up to issue what amounts to an anti-endorsement.

With polls showing wealthy York County businessman Tom Wolf significantly ahead in the Democratic gubernatorial primary race, the neck-to-neck four-way primary for the 13th district has become the race to watch in Pennsylvania.

The seat went up for grabs when Democratic U.S. Rep. Allyson Schwartz decided to enter the governor’s race. Initially, polls showed Marjorie Margolies, the former seat-holder of the 13th district with political and familial ties to the Clintons, as the front-runner. But state Sen. Daylin Leach (D-Montgomery County), physician Valerie Arkoosh, and Rep. Boyle have made it anyone’s game.

The race has been riddled with the kind of theatrical horse-race drama that delights local political observers: a Federal Election Commission complaint was filed against Margolies, Boyle refused to show up to one of the debates an hour before go-time, and there’s been general mud-slinging over who is and isn’t a bona fide millionaire. But amid the drama, it was Boyle’s decision to stump on a pro-choice platform that has drawn national attention.

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In a recent television ad, Boyle claimed that he has spent his time in Harrisburg “tak[ing] on [Gov. Tom] Corbett to protect a woman’s right to choose.”

Indeed, the right to abortion has been under attack by Gov. Corbett’s administration. Since Corbett’s election in 2010, Pennsylvania lawmakers have passed restrictions requiring that freestanding abortion clinics adhere to guidelines set for ambulatory surgical facilities and passed legislation restricting insurance companies from selling policies that cover abortion through the state health insurance exchange; an amendment to make an exception for abortions needed to protect the health of the pregnant woman was explicitly shot down.

Gov. Corbett made national headlines when he defended a proposed forced ultrasound bill by advising women to “just close [their] eyes” if they didn’t want to see the ultrasound screen during a state-mandated transvaginal ultrasound exam. (The bill was shelved after much criticism.)

In 2011, Pennsylvania lawmakers introduced legislation to require abortion providers to have admitting privileges at a local hospital, similar to a policy that has led to massive shutdowns of abortion clinics in Texas. A new version of the bill is expected to move after the primary.

While the Pennsylvania legislature has some members who have vocally taken on Gov. Corbett’s anti-choice agenda, Rep. Boyle is not one of them.

In fact, Boyle voted for the ambulatory surgical facility guidelines that led to the closure of at least four abortion clinics in good standing, and co-sponsored the 2011 admitting privileges legislation.

This contradiction caught the attention of the reproductive rights group NARAL Pro-Choice America and Emily’s List, which supports pro-choice women Democrats. (Emily’s List endorsed Allyson Schwartz for governor in Pennsylvania).

“We saw this as a fantastic opportunity to team up [with Emily’s List] to not only highlight someone’s bad anti-choice record, but also to remind voters that there are good pro-choice candidates in this race and Boyle is not one of them,” Samantha Gordon, NARAL’s director of public affairs, told Rewire.

In April, weeks before his campaign ad about protecting “a woman’s right to choose,” Boyle filled out a questionnaire that earned him an eleventh hour 100 percent rating from Planned Parenthood.

“We always welcome anyone who wants to be a convert, but [Boyle has a] record to show that this is not about an evolution on reproductive rights. It’s something we see as being a bit more obvious,” said Gordon. “We think he’s trying to mislead voters.”

Marcy Stech, a spokesperson for Emily’s List, told Rewire that “there’s no room except for someone who is pro-choice” in the 13th district.

The organizations collaborated to create pamphlets that clarify Boyle’s voting record on reproductive rights. The first of three planned waves of direct mail, targeted to female voters in the district, went out last Friday.

The front of the mailer announces “Brendan Boyle’s Abysmal Anti-Choice Record,” and the first page highlights his anti-choice voting record:

  • Pledged to block Planned Parenthood funding
  • Supported drastic restrictions on abortion providers
  • Named an “All Star” by Democrats for Life America

The cost of the groups’ campaign neared six figures, according to Gordon.

The primary in the 13th district is significant because, as Boyle explained in a recent interview, a Republican redistricting plan carved the districts up in such a way that it is largely assumed that whoever wins the Democratic primary will win the seat. The district includes neighborhoods in northeast Philadelphia and Montgomery County.

Boyle has said that he doesn’t think the same way about abortion as he did earlier in his career, though his support of ambulatory surgical facility guidelines and admitting privileges legislation was only three years ago.

While it’s true that he did not co-sponsor the 2014 version of the admitting privileges legislation, he has not publicly spoken out against the bill, or explained his new stance. In a recent wide-ranging interview, he did not mention abortion when asked about his support for women’s rights. Instead, he pivoted: “Investing in preventative medicine and health care is so important,” he said, adding that he wants to work against “laws that unfairly target women or make it more difficult to get preventative care.”

But by voting for ambulatory surgical facility guidelines, Boyle voted for a law that unfairly targets working and poor women by making it more difficult for them to access both reproductive and preventive care. The admitting privileges bill, if passed, will likely result in the closure of more abortion clinics in the state. No evidence exists that either type of regulation improves patient safety.


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