An ally for equal and adequate health care

In Pennsylvania’s male-dominated, Republican-controlled legislature, women need allies to ensure their health care rights and access to safe, legal abortions. I am an ally.

My role in this debate is to vote for policies that ensure women equal and adequate health care. My role is to speak truth to the power that my fellow lawmakers – predominantly middle-aged white guys like me – wield over women’s needs. Too often, this debate devolves into judgmental statements that focus exclusively on the woman and her actions and choices, as if these decisions exist in some bubble that absolves men from having to contend with these extremely difficult and personal decisions relating to abortion. The debate also gets bogged down by philosophical and theological gray areas and a continually threatening loop.  

In reality, a woman’s access to safe, legal abortion is necessary for public health. We are talking about access to a full range of health care by more than half our population (there are nearly 280,000 more women than men in the state). Everyone should have accurate information about all their health care options, which includes access to abortion. Restricting that information and access – especially in the draconian manner contemplated in the Texas and Mississippi laws currently under review by the U.S. Supreme Court – will not eliminate abortions. It will only make getting one more difficult and dangerous. The result will be that more people will die, in particular, the women who will be forced to non-medical people and in-home options in states and places that ban or criminalize abortion. Lawmakers in Texas are taking a medical process that is currently handled with professionalism, personal sensitivity, and safety and casting it into the shadows.

Abortion stigma keeps people silent about their experience. This silence is harmful because 1) it makes individuals feel alone in their experience and 2) it makes it easier to restrict access to abortion. It will also limit access to the full range of health services that places like Planned Parenthood provide. Those services include lifesaving cancer screenings, birth control, STD testing, and men’s health. These providers replace fear and misinformation with facts and education. Laws that restrict access to abortion also reduce access to these other, vital aspects of health care and public health.

In fact, if the goal of public policy is to reduce abortions and unwanted pregnancy – and improve public health in general – then we should support expansion of programs which give matter of fact, reality-based education and information to both young women and young men – and to all people, regardless of gender identity. Again, making this issue about supposed ethics and the judgement that comes with such an approach is counterproductive to achieving health parity.

I often say that, as a representative, it is my role to listen to my constituents and amplify their voices, especially on issues where I may be their only option. In this case, in a male-dominated legislature, it is my obligation to listen to women; respect what they say about their own health, bodies, and the choices they are confronted with in all aspects of health care; and give voice to their experiences and needs. On this issue, I stand with women who assert the need for equal access to the full range of care, including safe, legal abortion.