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June 29, 2016

Katie McGinty: We must fight efforts in Pa. to restrict women's access to health care

Last week, Pennsylvania unfortunately joined the ranks of too many other states whose elected officials are desperately trying to roll back women’s access to necessary health care services. Last Tuesday night, the Pennsylvania House of Representatives passed H.B. 1948, a bill limiting a woman’s right to choose that the Harrisburg Patriot-News warned “would move state policy here among the more restrictive in the nation.”

While Governor Wolf has already pledged to veto the bill if it gets to his desk, this legislation is an important reminder that the fight to protect women's health is far from over.

Thankfully, people in Pennsylvania and across the country have taken notice. The bill was even drastic enough to catch the attention of Hillary Clinton, who said the proposal “interferes with women's constitutional right to safe and legal abortion, while doing nothing to advance women's health.” I couldn’t agree more.

Justice Breyer is right. Our Constitution is designed to protect all our rights all the time, not to serve the few and only under certain circumstances. Our laws are meant to ensure safety and dignity....

Extreme anti-choice lawmakers across the country have been working diligently for years to find creative new ways to block women's access to reproductive health care and undermine their right to make these complex and deeply personal decisions without government interference.

Wielding misleading rhetoric about women’s health and safety, legislatures from Texas to Ohio have passed laws that strip funding from health care providers and force clinics to shut their doors to those who need them most.

We cannot allow Pennsylvania to become the next state to fall victim to these laws.

On Monday, the Supreme Court ruled that H.B. 2, the Texas law that inspired Wendy Davis to launch her famous filibuster, creates an undue burden for women seeking an abortion. This law is widely recognized to have forced the closing of most women's health clinics in the state, making it harder than ever for women to get the health care they need.

Crucially, in his majority opinion, Justice Stephen Breyer notes that the Texas law created “a particularly high barrier for poor, rural, or disadvantaged women.”

Justice Breyer is right. Our Constitution is designed to protect all our rights all the time, not to serve the few and only under certain circumstances. Our laws are meant to ensure safety and dignity, not to intrude on conversations and decisions that depend on the trust between a woman, her family, and her doctor.

Unfortunately, though, that's exactly what our Republican Senator, Pat Toomey, has consistently tried to do. In addition to voting repeatedly against a woman’s right to choose, he has cast several votes to defund Planned Parenthood, whose 37 centers in our state provide basic health and reproductive care to 108,000 Pennsylvanians annually. He even threatened to shut down the government over funding for Planned Parenthood.

At a time when we’re trying to grow our economy, improve our schools, and make health care better and more affordable, the last thing our elected officials should be doing is making it harder and more painful for women to seek and access the care they need.

We need allies who will stand up against attempts to interfere with women’s access to health care, and guarantee that we have a full court that will recognize the constitutional rights affirmed in Roe v. Wade – including the right to privacy, particularly when it comes to making critical decisions about our health.

Senator Toomey hasn’t done that either.

Since the death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, Senator Toomey has refused to do his constitutional duty and hold hearings and a vote to fill the vacancy on our nation's highest court.

Instead, Senator Toomey is biding his time, in the hopes that Donald Trump, who has outright said that women who get an abortion should be punished, will have the opportunity to fill the vacancy on the Supreme Court.

Under no circumstances can that happen.

This isn’t the first time we’ve seen elected officials use any means necessary to roll back the progress we've made on women’s health, and it won’t be the last.

When we go to the polls in November, we have to decide whether we're OK with moving backward or whether we're going to going to protect women's freedom to make these choices for themselves once and for all.

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Katie McGinty is the Democratic nominee in the race for U.S. Senator from Pennsylvania, challenging Republican incumbent Pat Toomey.