Tag Archives: Abortion

New study debunks myths about post-abortion emotions

By Hillary Scrivani, WLP Legal Intern

Some anti-choice groups are notorious for spreading lies about abortion in an effort to deter women from making informed medical decisions about their reproductive health.   Some of these lies include exaggerating or outright fabricating adverse emotional impacts that abortion can have on a woman.  A recent study performed by the University of California, San Francisco, debunks these myths by finding that the week after having an abortion, most women report feeling relieved.

The study, which involved more than 800 women who sought abortions between 2008 and 2010, asked the participants about their experiences with relief, happiness, regret, guilt, sadness and anger.  Ninety percent of women who had an abortion near the gestational age limit experienced relief.  More than eighty percent of those who initially experienced negative emotions after having an abortion still felt that it was the correct choice.  The study also looked at women who were denied abortion care, and found that these participants experienced “more regret and less relief” one week later than the women who obtained abortions.

This study shows why it is crucial that women be able to make decisions about their own reproductive health without being bombarded with anti-choice propaganda.  Though people are bound to experience a wide range of emotions when seeking any kind of medical treatment, it is unethical to mislead women with false information about emotional consequences regarding their healthcare decisions.

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Filed under Abortion, Abortion Access, Reproductive Rights, Women's health

Ohio, Texas, North Carolina, Wisconsin – Let’s End This List

By Kaitlin Leskovac, WLP Summer Intern

Three weeks ago, under the watchful eyes of six male state legislators (photo), Governor Kasich (R) of Ohio signed the new state budget. As many have noted, the symbolism in this photo is marked, as Ohio’s new budget reads bankrupt for abortion rights. HB 59 contains drastic cuts in funding for Planned Parenthood; it threatens to withhold public funding for rape crisis clinics if clinic employees provide counseling on abortion care; it requires a woman seeking an abortion to have and pay for an ultrasound; and it prohibits transfer agreements between abortion clinics and public hospitals, a measure that is already threatening to close one of only twelve clinics in the state.

In the last couple of weeks, the Texas legislature passed the anti-abortion legislation that Senator Wendy Davis and thousands of other women and men, in Texas and across the country, have been fighting since “the people’s filibuster” late last month. This is the law that is predicted to close all but five of Texas’ abortion clinics. Three Planned Parenthood clinics have already announced they will have to close their doors come August, as a result of the law’s new mandates. As if this doesn’t go far enough, several legislators have sponsored HB 59, a fetal heartbeat bill that would bring the threshold for legal abortion down to 6 weeks.

North Carolina and Wisconsin have also passed recent anti-abortion legislation. In NC, the prohibitive cost of mandated upgrades threatens closure of all but one of the state’s 16 abortion clinics. In WI, AB 227 (aka SB 206) would require women seeking an abortion to have an ultrasound and require doctors providing abortions to have admitting privileges at a local hospital. Opponents of the law say it would close two of only four clinics in the state.

And that is exactly the point.

What this recent wave of draconian anti-abortion legislation renders overwhelmingly clear is the importance of who our state legislators are. In the matter of abortion, where individual states retain enormous discretion, the actions of state legislatures can devastate abortion rights. This has been demonstrated time and time again: in Texas, in North Dakota, and in Pennsylvania. Therefore, every election, presidential or not, is essential to the security of women’s rights. However, voting rates in off year elections for state representatives remain notoriously low. Female voter participation in particular has been shown to drop by over a million votes in off year elections in Pennsylvania.

In evaluating state legislative actions against abortion rights, we must carefully consider who it is that we elect to our state legislatures. It’s no surprise that women’s rights are getting short shrift in many states. After all, women are still underrepresented in public office. Women compose only 18% of Congress, and it is hardly better at the state level. In Ohio, women make up 24% of the state legislature; in Texas, 21%; in North Carolina, 22%; and in Wisconsin, 25%.The dearth of women in our state assemblies matters when it comes to setting legislative priorities and countering efforts to restrict access to abortion, not because all women support abortion rights—they do not—and not because electing more women to public office is the silver bullet to end the “war on women.” Rather, as Senator Davis so eloquently demonstrated, the voices of women who are directly affected by public policy have the power to inform the public debate and transform how legislatures approach issues of concern to women. The key is to elect a legislature that is diverse in experiences, viewpoint, and perspective.  If we want to change the outcome, that is, put a stop to threats against reproductive rights, it matters who the players are.

Fact: Women compose only 18% of the Pennsylvania General Assembly. Consider this in the larger picture of state governments, which nationwide have become more conservative since 2010. According to the Guttmacher Institute, in the first half of 2013, states enacted 43 abortion restrictions, as many as were enacted in the entire year of 2012. With trends like these, it will take a long time to pin down the ever-evolving standard for the nation’s “strictest” abortion laws.

Whether or not these recent anti-abortion laws are ultimately challenged and/or struck down, in passing these measures, state legislators demonstrate an overwhelming lack of respect for women’s choices. In Wisconsin, Governor Walker claims the new bill, “improves a woman’s ability to make an informed choice.” Choice is the operative word here because ultimately, these laws preclude it. A woman can’t very well choose to have an abortion if she is unable to access an abortion.

In the first half of 2013, the efforts to restrict women’s reproductive rights were astounding, and continued and increasing counter efforts are needed to turn the tide. The image of Governor Kasich of Ohio surrounded by only men as he signed the new state budget reads as a lot more than the beginning of a new fiscal year. It reads as a need to continue fighting to secure women’s reproductive rights in every state. It reads as a fundamental lack of diversity in the vast majority of leadership positions in society. And it reads as a need to remind ourselves of the significance of our votes, and the relationship between the who and the what in the matter of legislative priorities. After all, as Ohio State Rep. Connie Pillich (D) summed it up, is your uterus a budget issue?

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Filed under Abortion, Abortion Access, Democracy, PA Legislature, Planned Parenthood, Politics, Reproductive Rights, Voter turnout, women in Congress, women in legislature, women voting, Women's health

Texas Filibuster Raises National Spotlight on Restrictive State Abortion Laws

By Kaitlin Leskovac, WLP Summer Intern

Texas State Senator Wendy Davis (D)  led an epic filibuster Tuesday night protesting a sweeping and restrictive anti-abortion bill, Texas Senate Bill 537. Holding the Senate floor for approximately 11 hours, Davis’ awe-inspiring display of conviction was successful in delaying a vote on the bill, with the expiration of the special legislative session at midnight. However, Governor Rick Perry (R), who called the special session and put the bill on the agenda, has already called a second special session so lawmakers may consider the bill again.

Texas Senate Bill 537 contains some of the nation’s most restrictive abortion regulations. If passed, Texas Senate Bill 537 threatens closure of all but 5 of Texas’ 42 abortion clinics. The bill bans abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy; requires all abortion clinics to meet standards for ambulatory surgical centers; and mandates all doctors performing abortions to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital. Texas is not alone; these types of regulation are surfacing in state legislatures around the nation.

In June of 2012, new regulations for Pennsylvania abortion clinics took effect as part of Act 122, signed into law by Governor Corbett in late 2011. Similar to parts of the Texas legislation, this new law requires freestanding facilities performing surgical abortions to conform to financially burdensome and medically unnecessary requirements associated with ambulatory surgical centers. These upgrades are unnecessary to provide safe abortion care. The act is part of ongoing efforts to restrict access to abortion care.

Two weeks ago, Governor Tom Corbett (R) signed HB 818 limiting abortion coverage under health care insurance policies offered in the federal insurance marketplace starting next year, as per the implementation of the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”). The law will prohibit private insurance coverage for abortion, even in cases of medical emergencies endangering the health of the pregnant woman, and even in cases of fetal anomaly incompatible with life. This provision is an additional restriction on abortion rights and disproportionately affects poor women’s access to important medical care.

The present unavailability of Medicaid and the recently enacted ban on insurance coverage of abortion in the exchange will make hospital-based abortion services too costly for many women in comparison to clinic-based care. In Pennsylvania, over 90% of abortion care is delivered by the frail network of 14 non-hospital-based freestanding abortion providers. With limited abortion coverage and rising costs, PA’s restrictive abortion policies threaten women’s right to choose and have a costly impact on women’s health. Accessibility to safe, legal abortion services is essential to preventing dangerous illegal abortions.

The victory of abortion rights advocates in Texas has implications nationwide. That hundreds of supporters came to rally at the Capitol, tens of thousands more watched the filibuster online, with an outpouring of support on Twitter sends a clear message to legislators. The filibuster demonstrates that abortion rights are in fact extremely important to many women and men who will not be silent while policymakers enact more dangerous and far-reaching restrictions. Davis’ testimony detailed the impact of these restrictions on the lives of real women. We in Pennsylvania can take inspiration from the women of Texas and join them in fighting back hard.

For more on the national landscape of abortion laws, check out this must-see graphic.

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Filed under Abortion, Abortion Access, Health Care, Health insurance, PA Legislature, Reproductive Rights, Women's health

Pennsylvania Passes Yet Another Restriction on Women’s Health Care

Earlier this month, the Pennsylvania General Assembly gave final approval to House Bill 818, a measure that would force insurance plans that cover abortion care to stop providing that coverage in the state health insurance exchange. The Legislature also rejected an amendment to the bill that would have allowed insurers to provide coverage when abortion care is necessary to preserve a woman’s health.  Governor Corbett signed the bill as originally proposed into law on June 17, and it will take effect as the new health care exchange comes online later this year.

The new law states that insurance providers operating in the Pennsylvania exchange may only provide coverage of abortion care when the pregnancy is a result of rape or incest or if the pregnancy would cause imminent death. This ignores the medical needs of women who are not in immediate risk of death but for whom continuing a pregnancy could result in serious harm or health risks.  The proposed amendment that the Legislature rejected would have at least protected these women for whom abortions are crucial to maintaining their health.

HB 818’s supporters tried to argue that the bill simply prohibits “taxpayer-funded” abortions, but abortion care was already ineligible for public funding.  Unable to ban abortion entirely, our policymakers appear determined to make abortion care unaffordable and inaccessible. This misguided approach to health care not only infringes on women’s rights but could also endanger a woman’s health.

Though it passed, the bill faced spirited opposition in both chambers of the General Assembly. One of the dissenters, freshman Representative Erin Molchany, told her colleagues in the first speech she ever made on the house floor, “House Bill 818 is a bad bill, full of unintended consequences . . . this house is making decisions for women in this state—deeply personal decisions.  While all of us come from different professional backgrounds, we are all legislators—not medical professionals, not insurance companies, and for the most part not women.”

Most people agree that politicians shouldn’t be allowed to take away a woman’s health coverage just because of where she gets her insurance.  People rely on their health insurance to provide coverage for unexpected medical situations, and all women deserve the peace of mind that comes with knowing that they can obtain the health care they need—whether or not that includes an abortion.

It is a shame that Governor Corbett didn’t take a page out of conservative Michigan Governor Rick Snyder’s playbook.  Late last year, Gov. Snyder vetoed a measure similar to HB 818 because “insurance companies and private buyers of insurance should be able to conduct their own affairs.”  It is a sorry day when even free-market politics and the interests of private businesses have to take a backseat to restricting women’s health care and infringing on women’s autonomy.

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Filed under Abortion, Abortion Access, Health Care, Health insurance, PA Legislature, Pennsylvania, Philadephia Daily News, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Reproductive Rights, Women's health

The Questions No One is Asking about the Kermit Gosnell Case…

By Carol E.Tracy and Kate Michelman

With Kermit Gosnell’s criminal trial underway in Philadelphia, public outrage at the physician accused of murdering one woman and seven infants increases with each grisly new piece of evidence.

But the Gosnell trial raises several inescapable questions:  How could this happen? In particular, how, in a state that has led the nation in imposing restrictions on abortion, could such atrocities go undetected?  Just as puzzling is why the numerous complaints against him were ignored.  The answer is simple:  throughout the 1970s and 1980s, when abortion policy was established, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania’s primary goal was to overturn Roe v. Wade and, barring that, impose as many barriers as possible to limit access to abortion.  By and large, our policymakers have never viewed abortion as a medical procedure – instead placing it under the Pennsylvania Crimes Code – and therefore have not nurtured a system of abortion care that is woman-focused, readily accessible, and responsive to their medical needs.  The Commonwealth’s focus has been on denying access, not protecting the health and safety of women who need this medical care. If the charges against Gosnell prove true, Gosnell was an outlaw who repeatedly violated numerous laws and should have been shut down years ago, but the state did not hold him accountable to its own laws and policies.

So why did women go to his clinic? Why not choose a legitimate, reputable provider of abortion care? During a Senate Public Health and Welfare Committee hearing on proposed abortion regulation bills, Tyhisha Hudson, a woman who had obtained an abortion at Gosnell’s clinic, was asked why she went to him.  She testified that women in her neighborhood knew that Gosnell was the man you saw for the cheapest abortion.

Another Gosnell patient, Davida Johnson, noted in an Associated Press article that she intended to go to Planned Parenthood for an abortion procedure, but was scared away by anti-abortion protesters picketing outside the clinic. An acquaintance suggested she go to Gosnell, where protesters (ironically) were not an issue.

Evidence suggests that a number of factors influenced a woman’s decision to seek care at Gosnell’s clinic: Medicaid’s refusal to provide insurance coverage for most abortions; the scarcity of abortion providers in Pennsylvania (and across the nation); the fear of violence perpetrated by protestors at clinics, and the right-wing culture that has so stigmatized abortion that many think it is still illegal 40 years after Roe v. Wade.

It is critically important that the women of Pennsylvania know that abortion is legal and is a safe medical procedure.  As set forth in the Gosnell Grand Jury Indictment, legitimate providers, like Planned Parenthood and members of the National Abortion Federation, follow the law and standard medical procedures.

Unfortunately, politicians in Congress and in Harrisburg continue to make it more and more burdensome for women to get safe abortions.  Since 1976, Congress has annually re-authorized the Hyde Amendment, which bans federal Medicaid coverage of abortion care except in cases of rape, incest, or if the pregnant woman’s life is endangered. Pennsylvania law likewise restricts any state Medicaid money from funding the procedure except in those three rare circumstances (rape, incest, and threat to the woman’s life), so low-income Pennsylvania women are as a rule responsible for covering the entire cost of an abortion out-of-pocket. This cost equals or exceeds an entire month of TANF assistance benefits for most families.

Bills currently pending before the Pennsylvania legislature would ban coverage of abortion in health insurance policies sold in the health care exchange under the Affordable Care Act. These extreme measures would ban abortion coverage even when the woman’s health is endangered if she is forced to continue a dangerous pregnancy, and even when the coverage would be separately paid for with the woman’s own money.

Reputable, careful providers of high quality abortion care are under attack. As a result of an orchestrated campaign of harassment, intimidation and violence against individual doctors and freestanding women’s clinics by domestic terrorist organizations like the Army of God and Operation Rescue, the number of abortion providers in the United States declined 38 percent between 1982 and 2005. In Pennsylvania, there is not a single freestanding abortion provider in the hundreds of miles between Pittsburgh and Harrisburg.

To compound the provider shortage problem, the Pennsylvania legislature passed a new law in 2011 modeled after a bill on the wish list of the National Right To Life Committee:  mandating that the remaining handful of abortion providers come into compliance with volumes of costly regulations designed for ambulatory surgical facilities where much more complex surgeries take place. Today, there are just 13 freestanding providers of surgical abortion care in Pennsylvania, down from 22 two years ago.

Pennsylvania is not alone in developing strategies to regulate abortion care right out of existence. In fact, state legislatures have enacted 135 abortion restrictions in the last two years, according to the Guttmacher Institute.

For readers who feel this doesn’t apply to them, mark our words, it does, because it is likely that you know someone who has had an abortion. One in three women will have an abortion by the time she is 45. Between 30 and 40 million women have had abortions since Roe v. Wade was decided in 1973.

History tells us that whether abortion is legal or illegal, women will have abortions – the only difference is whether women live or die.  As in the pre-Roe days, women with resources can usually find quality care; but those without resources will often seek out the cheapest possible care. The long-term impact of burdening and stigmatizing abortion care could be that the most vulnerable women will once again have to risk their health and lives to get what should be a completely safe and common medical procedure.

Kate Michelman is co-chair of WomenVote PA, an initiative of the Women’s Law Project, and President Emeritus of NARAL Pro-Choice America.

Carol Tracy is co-chair of WomenVote PA, an initiative of the Women’s Law Project, and Executive Director of the Women’s Law Project.

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Filed under Abortion, Abortion Access, Reproductive Rights, Women's health, WomenVote PA

Roe v. Wade 40 Years Later: How Far Have We Come?*

By Kate Michelman and Carol Tracy

January 22nd marks the fortieth anniversary of landmark Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade.

Roe v. Wade was a historic milestone for women in America, because this right to control our capacity to reproduce – including our right to use contraception – significantly enhances our ability to participate fully in society. It helps ensure our personal privacy, our dignity, and our health.

Roe v. Wade promised to protect our ability to make decisions about our bodies without unwarranted interference, and recognized the essential importance of equality and freedom for women in our society.

On this fortieth anniversary, it is appropriate to ask if the promise of Roe v. Wade has been fulfilled.  Has women’s liberty and equality progressed as far as we hoped it would since January 22, 1973?

Clearly there have been some great strides forward. During the 2012 elections, women turned out in droves to make their voices heard. In almost every instance where women’s reproductive rights were challenged, freedom of choice prevailed. Earlier this month, a record number of women were sworn into the 113th Congress. Indeed, some may view the successes of 2012 as a sign of continually emerging equality and solid and lasting protection against discrimination and political harassment. Sadly, they would be wrong.

In 2012, forty-two states and the District of Columbia enacted 122 reproductive health-related measures. The primary purpose of at least 43 of those was to limit access to abortion.  This was in addition to the 92 abortion restrictions enacted in 2011. Twenty states restricted abortion coverage through the state health insurance exchanges mandated by the Affordable Health Care Act. Crucial family planning funds were slashed from many state budgets.  Funding for reproductive health services in non-state operated clinics such as Planned Parenthood came under attack at both the state and federal levels. Currently, contraception can be barred from employer-based insurance coverage in eight states, and abstinence-only education remains the norm in the majority of our country.

This fight against contraception reveals the true hypocrisy of the anti-abortion groups: their concern isn’t protecting the unborn fetus; it’s about controlling which choices women are, and are not, allowed to make.

Forty years later, women still do not have equal pay in the workplace and are discriminated against due to pregnancy and familial responsibilities.

And despite the record-breaking number of women in Congress this year, and despite women voting at higher rates than men, women remain vastly underrepresented in the political landscape, let alone the corporate world. Those who do beat the tremendous odds are subjected to double standards of behavior, gender-based rhetoric, and vicious vitriol directed at times towards their femininity rather than their capability.

Negative attitudes towards women do not end there. The continued occurrences and reactions to instances of rape and sexual assault are indicative of the negative attitudes towards women that permeate society today. The gang rape on a bus in India sparked a global furor. The rape in Steubenville, Ohio, our own backyard, sparked a similar wave of repudiation. However, the blaming, shaming, and judgment directed toward the victims of these horrific crimes remains a key component of the dialogue surrounding even these high-profile instances of sexual assault. While the sheer volume of sexual assault and rape speaks to the prevalence of violent and negative attitudes towards women, the victim-blaming and judgment that occurs paints an even more disturbing picture revealing how subversive and long-lasting these negative perspectives of women are.

Technically, the core protections guaranteed by Roe v. Wade remain intact. However, those protections are eroding due to the constant onslaught by radical conservatives bent on undermining the rights of women. The goal of Roe v. Wade was to ensure a woman’s right to control the most intimate aspect of her life. Without this right, simply put, women are unable to participate equally with men in the social, political and economic life of the nation.

The road ahead remains difficult. Our health, financial security, and personal safety are constantly challenged, compromised, and limited. So while we reflect on these past forty years, let us acknowledge and celebrate the extraordinary steps we have taken to move our country towards equality.

But let us also understand that hard work and vigilance is needed now, more than ever, in the fight for women’s equality and justice.  The goal of Roe v. Wade has not been achieved, but on this anniversary it is essential that it also not be forgotten.

Kate Michelman is president emerita of NARAL Pro-Choice America, author of “With Liberty and Justice for All: A Life Spent Protecting the Right to Choose,” and co-chair of WomenVote PA.

Carol E. Tracy is Executive Director of the Women’s Law Project and co-chair of WomenVote PA, an initiative of the Women’s Law Project.

*NOTE: This post so far has appeared in the following newspapers and/or online: the Huffington Post, the Main Line News, the Harrisburg Patriot-News, and USA Today.

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Filed under Abortion, Abortion Access, Reproductive Rights, Women's health

Women’s rights fight has moved to state level

Op-Ed  by Kate Michelman and Carol Tracy, appeared in the Philadelphia Inquirer, Sunday, December 9, 2012

That Mitt Romney was stunned by his defeat says much about his and others’ blindness to the divergent forces that carried Barack Obama to victory.

Imagine the bitter truths they must confront as the nature of the electorate becomes clear. The demographic realities that shaped the victory gave joy to those of us who have been ignored, belittled, and targeted by the conservative right. The very women, youth, people of color, gays and lesbians they assumed to be at the margins of national politics had their revenge. And, yes, we voted for “liberal” causes, obvious rights that have been denied for too long by the people who saw the country through out- of- date lenses.

Women, in particular, claimed our rights in bold print. More women turned out to vote than men. We were the largest deciding block in Obama’s victory (11 points over Romney). We left absolutely no doubt that we demand and deserve equal rights: equal pay, an end to pregnancy discrimination and sexual harassment, better family health care, paid leave, and broad access to contraception. At t he t op of t he list: Government should have no part in a woman’s reproductive decisions. Choice. It’s what most women demand for all women. An exit poll revealed that Americans believe abortion should be legal, 59 percent to 36 percent.

We had a great day. We won a solid and lasting protection against discrimination and political harassment. The national vote said it all.

Wrong.

The national vote, while worthy of high-fives all round, is hardly the end of our struggle for women’s rights. When conservatives lose a decisive battle at the federal level, they redouble their efforts at the state and local levels. And they’ve already made that clear in Ohio. A few days after the election the legislature defunded Planned Parenthood.

Facing vetoes from the White House and having no hope of stacking the Supreme Court, pro-life advocates will become much more aggressive at the state levels. Their targets: governors (30 Republicans), Republican-controlled legislatures, and local governments and institutions, including hospital boards, PTAs, even library boards. They are particularly focused on judicial appointments.

Women showed our force in checking the war on women. But don’t be deceived; the war goes on. Only the battlefields change.

Consider some of their recent legislative gains across the nation. Parental disclosure. Ultrasound tests. Showing a woman the X-rays of her unborn. Preprocedure lectures. Shutting down clinics by needlessly raising architectural standards. Forcing women farther afield to find a clinic. The list goes on.

Extreme conservatives can’t roll back Roe v. Wade, but they can and will try to crawl beneath the radar of broad publicity with seemingly innocuous ways to shame us, to deny our rights and our equality. They will count on our satisfaction in winning the White House to soon give way to apathy. To ignore their zeal is to risk forfeiting our hard-fought gains.

To exercise their power in ways that affect their lives and health, women must educate themselves about the values and policy views of decision-makers at every level. In many cases, the decisions that have the biggest impact are made by officials who often don’t attract much attention.

The country is served well by national organizations, but today the greater need is at the state and local levels — to make effective use of traditional and social media and grassroots efforts to profile candidates and encourage women to be aware, to choose, and to vote.

The best of these information groups include both Republicans and Democrats. They may or may not endorse candidates. Their objective is to keep vigilance over all manner of issues affecting women in that state, to share solid information, and to demand accountability from those who threaten our rights.

The only way women will continue our advance toward equality and privacy is to be aware — to take the time not just to understand the forces trying to take back our recent gains, but to make the time to fight back.

Kate Michelman is co-chair of WomenVote PA, president emerita of NARAL Pro-Choice America, and author of “With Liberty and Justice for All: A Life Spent Protecting the Right to Choose.”

Carol E. Tracy is co-chair of WomenVote PA, an initiative of the Women’s Law Project, and Executive Director of the Women’s Law Project.

 

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Filed under 2012 Election, Abortion Access, Contraception, Equality, Reproductive Rights, Women's health, WomenVote PA