Trifecta of anti-abortion bills threatens choice and women's health

Dr. Val Arkoosh

Dr. Val Arkoosh Courtesy of Val Arkoosh for U.S. Senate

Nearly 50 years ago, Roe v. Wade established the right of women to have an abortion, establishing reproductive freedom in America and giving women the ability to make decisions about their own bodies. As a physician who specialized in women’s health and spent many years on the labor and delivery floor, and as a mom myself, I know the joys, the fears and risks, and the choices that women have to make during pregnancy. I can tell you, first-hand, politicians should not be making any of those choices for women.

Despite the precedent put forth in Roe, politicians in Harrisburg and Republican-held legislatures across the country continue to attack reproductive justice. They advance extreme anti-abortion bills, year after year, while wages, parental leave, and public health take a backseat, and women – disproportionately Black women – continue to die during childbirth.

That’s because those politicians have a singular goal that isn’t about public health at all: It’s to control what women can do with their own bodies. They won’t stop until they overturn Roe v. Wade – a real possibility with the U.S. Supreme Court having agreed to consider Mississippi’s 15-week abortion ban. I understand, as a doctor, the horrific consequences that would have.

Just look at what they are trying to do here in Pennsylvania. Republicans are pushing what they call a “heartbeat bill,” a bill to effectively end abortion access altogether by banning it as early as six weeks into a pregnancy.

As any woman who is reading this will know, many don’t even know they are pregnant at six weeks. Think about it this way: If this becomes law and a woman missed her period and was two weeks late, it could be too late for her to get an abortion if she wished to do so.

And let me break down why the term “heartbeat bill” is not rooted in medicine or science. When a woman is six weeks pregnant, there is no heart that beats. But still, they brand it as a “heartbeat bill” to try to manipulate the public to believe they are standing up for families, when in reality, they are imposing dangerous mandates on women.

Pennsylvania Republicans are also pushing a bill that would impose unnecessary requirements on women who lose their pregnancy. They actually want to require women to obtain a death certificate in the case of an abortion, miscarriage, or ectopic pregnancy -- forcing additional trauma on women going through one of the most painful experiences of their lives and imposing a financial burden on women for losing a pregnancy. By creating a public record of their loss, this bill would make a private experience incredibly public.

This is not only brutally insensitive, but it could even cause women not to seek out medical care they need, compromising the health and safety of women across Pennsylvania.

And lastly, the Pennsylvania House Health Committee advanced a bill that would ban abortion on the basis of a prenatal diagnosis of Down syndrome, potentially discouraging honest dialogue between patients and their doctor, which is at the core of the doctor-patient relationship. This could leave families with incomplete information when navigating a complicated pregnancy.

As alarming as these threats are, we should also be concerned that our time spent battling these attacks each year distracts us from critical work we should be doing to advance women’s health.

I earned a master’s degree in public health after working years as a doctor, realizing that so many of the issues impacting my patients were occurring outside the exam room. It led me to join the National Physicians Alliance and work to pass the Affordable Care Act. So, I understand that we have much more to do to advance health care and public health in this country.

Frankly, the time spent trying to chip away at settled precedent would be better spent closing health care coverage gaps for Black and Brown women, bringing down the cost of prescription drugs, and working toward equitable solutions to strengthen the health of entire communities. 

At the same time, we know Republicans don’t intend to stop this assault on our right to an abortion, and they plan to use every tool in the book to try to take away this right. We need to both defeat these attacks and call out the hypocrisy of politicians who couch their attempts to take away access to abortion under the guise of supporting women’s health. 

Women across the Commonwealth deserve nothing less than full decision-making control over their bodies, and leaders who will work to improve women’s health across the board.

Val Arkoosh, MD, MPH, is the Chair of the Montgomery County Board of Commissioners and a Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate in Pennsylvania.