by Chris Potter
If you read this blog, chances you are a remarkably informed citizen. (Not to mention your keen taste for luminous prose!) So you've probably heard the furor surrounding House Bill 1077, Harrisburg's charmingly misnamed "Women's Right to Know Act." This is the legislation that requires any woman seeking an abortion to get an ultrasound first, on the apparent theory that she's too stupid to realize that abortions are for women who are pregnant. Or, as the bill touchingly puts it:
A woman considering an abortion has the right to receive complete and accurate information regarding the development and health of her unborn child.
In recognition of the importance of a woman's dignity in making an informed choice, the factual information provided by an ultrasound test should be provided to a woman as an integral part of the informed consent necessary to undergo an abortion.
Unsurprisingly for a Republican-backed bill, this concern for "a woman's dignity" only extends so far. It does not, for example, allow her to opt out of having the ultrasound -- though she may avert her eyes from the screen. As noted in this space before, Republicans' normally boundless faith in the wisdom of consumers doesn't extend to pregnant women.
All this you know. But what you may not realize is that while this is primarily a Republican bill, when it passed the state House committee on Health, local Democrat Dan Deasy sided with the GOP on every substantive vote.
And will Pittsburghers who oppose that position have any recourse at the polls this year? They will not.
On an amendment to remove penalties for waiving the "right" to have the ultrasound? Deasy voted with Republicans, and against Democrats, to leave the penalties in.
On an amendment to explicitly state that nothing in the bill "may be constructed to limit a woman's right to refuse medical advice and treatment"? Deasy voted with the GOP, and against his fellow Dems.
On an amendment requiring the "use of ultrasound to rule out natural miscarriage or ectopic pregnancy"? Deasy was the only Dem to support the GOP position.
And finally, on the motion to report this bill out of committee and move it along the legislative process? Deasy was one of two Dems to vote with the GOP majority.
It's not as if Deasy's vote would have changed the outcome here. Republicans have a 14-10 majority on the committee. But Deasy's role -- the only Democrat to vote with Republicans on every change to the bill's language -- is conspicuous. And he'll have a chance to repeat such performances this time next year too.
For a brief period, it seemed Deasy would face a challenger in this year's primary: Erin Molchany, who is an actual woman-type person, announced a challenge in January. But Molchany's candidacy was a fluke of redistricting: She actually lives in the 22nd district. That district, previously held by fellow woman-type person Chelsa Wagner, was a casualty of the Republican redistricting plan ... but when that plan was tossed out by the state Supreme Court, Molchany was flung back into the 22nd district, where she is now running. The upshot, then, is that a Republican setback is actually the pro-life movement's gain. With Molchany shuffled back to 22, Deasy is now unopposed.
Ordinarily, this would be the place where I would encourage women -- at least those who are concerned about retaining some measure of control over their bodies -- to start either running for office themselves, or finding someone else to do it. But actually, that isn't quite good enough.
Yes, it's conspicuous that, on a Health committee debating women's "right to know," only five of 24 members were actually women. But three of those women were Republicans, who voted almost uniformly to move the legislation along: Mauree Gingrich, Marcy Toepel, and Tara Toohil.
Then too, even if you had a prochoice Republican woman to vote for, the Health committee votes show the danger of doing anything to shore up a Republican majority. The party in control of each legislative chamber also holds a majority on each committee. With most Republicans holding antichoice views, it's a roll of the dice as to whether electing a prochoice Republican would improve matters. Would she end up on the right committee? Would she be able to affect the outcome there? In this case, even if all three female Republicans on the Health committee reversed their votes, the votes would have had the same outcome, although with smaller margins. (It's worth noting, however, that Toohil did vote against her fellow Republicans to table consideration of an ultrasound amendment. That was one of only two times a committee Republican broke ranks.)
If you're pro-choice, that's an important point to consider. Previous efforts to recruit female candidates have not taken the candidates' abortion position into account ... with the result that in at least one case, supporters of women's empowerment ended up opposing a Democrat who supported the right to choose.
Voters in District 27, of course, don't have a choice at all. My advice: Given the redistricting chaos especially, you may as well write in Erin Molchany anyway.