A Pennsylvania state representative who is campaigning for the upcoming Democratic primary on a pro-choice platform has in the past cast key votes against women’s health. It’s a kind of hypocrisy that’s only possible when rhetoric trumps reality on women’s health issues—a common theme in Pennsylvania politics.
A former broadcast journalist, Rep. Margo Davidson was the first Democrat, first African American, and first woman to represent her district, a historically Republican chunk of Delaware County that includes parts of Upper Darby Township, East Landsdowne, Millbourne, and parts of Lansdowne and Yeadon. (This district borders Philadelphia.)
But since taking office, like Democrat Rep. Harry Readshaw near Pittsburgh, Davidson has often aligned with Republican interests. She voted, for example, for school vouchers and the state redistricting plan.
And despite recent campaign flyers touting her supposedly pro-choice bona fides, Davidson also voted for a bill that shut down abortion clinics in the state as well as for a law banning insurers from selling policies that cover abortion care through the state’s insurance exchange.
Margo is a leading voice in the legislature on gender equity and women’s empowerment issues. She believes every woman has the right to choose. That’s why Margo voted to make abortion safe and legal.
These claims are misleading.
Davidson did not vote to make abortion legal. In fact, state politicians don’t cast votes to make abortion legal or illegal: Abortion is a constitutionally protected right for everyone in the United States under the 1973 landmark Supreme Court ruling Roe v. Wade.
As for the assertion that Davidson has voted to “make abortion safe”: She has actually voted for bills that make it more likely that lower-income women will resort to illegal, unregulated, and potentially unsafe abortion procedures. Davidson voted for abortion regulations that required prohibitively expensive architectural upgrades at the state’s freestanding abortion clinics—despite vocal opposition from relevant medical associations, and despite a lack of evidence that similar policies in other states have led to improved patient safety. There is, however, significant evidence that similar over-regulation of freestanding abortion clinics in other states has led to abortion clinics being forced to close. In Texas, for example, only 24 abortion clinics were left open as of April 11 because of similar over-regulation. And currently, one clinic is left in Mississippi.
The back-door closure of clinics makes it harder for lower-income women to find a legitimate provider. Without access to a clinic and unable to afford the services of a private doctor, poor and working women often turn to illegal and sometimes unsafe services, such as ordering abortion-inducing pills on the black market or visiting rogue practitioners.
To a low-income American woman seeking to end an unwanted pregnancy, it doesn’t matter if abortion is still legal if she can’t afford to see a provider. With bills like the ones Davidson supported in Pennsylvania sweeping the country, a woman’s “right to choose” means little if she’s forced to choose between carrying an unwanted pregnancy to term and unregulated, black-market options for ending that pregnancy.
The new regulations Davidson endorsed shut down four abortion clinics in good standing.
No one questions the fact that for Davidson, the issue is profoundly personal. Davidson is the cousin of Semika Shaw, a who died in 2002 at age 22 after obtaining a botched abortion at Kermit Gosnell’s now-shuttered “house of horrors” clinic in West Philadelphia. Davidson grew up in Mantua, the neighborhood where Gosnell operated.
Though Davidson’s passion for the issue is palpable—she was noted for delivering emotional speeches as the new regulations were debated—that doesn’t change that there is no evidence such regulations increase patient safety and ever-growing evidence they shut down clinics.
Kermit Gosnell was practicing illegally. The problem wasn’t a lack of law or regulation; Gosnell went undetected for so long because the state refused to enforce existing laws.
Davidson also voted for a bill that banned insurance companies from selling plans that cover abortion through the state insurance exchange. Supporters of HB 818 claim the bill prevented tax dollars from covering abortions, but that is false. There’s already a financial firewall in place in order for the state exchange system established by the Affordable Care Act (ACA) to adhere to the Hyde Amendment, the consistently renewed law first passed in 1976 that prevents federal funds from paying for abortion except in narrow circumstances.
Additionally, the ACA mandates that states sell a least one equivalent plan through the exchange that doesn’t cover abortion.
The health care law does not provide federal funding for abortion. Our conclusion was that even if you have the opportunity to buy abortion coverage on the exchanges — and Americans in many states won’t have that option — you won’t be forced to buy such coverage. Non-abortion options will always be available on the exchanges, and tax dollars sent to those plans through federal subsidies will be placed in accounts walled off from accounts used to pay for abortion services.
HB 818, which even bans coverage of abortion procedures to protect the health of the pregnant person, reflects special interests that have long been powerful in Harrisburg, but not the viewpoint of Pennsylvania voters. As previously reported by RH Reality Check, when asked whether or not they support insurance companies participating in the exchange covering abortion “to protect the health of the woman,” 79 percent of Pennsylvania residents said yes.
In response to these key two votes, Planned Parenthood Pennsylvania PAC and the National Organization for Women has endorsed Davidson’s challenger, Billy J. Smith, in the primary.
Smith is a Philadelphia-based criminal defense attorney, former assistant district attorney, and former councilman from Lansdowne. He’s been endorsed by his former boss, Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams, the Liberty City LGBT Democratic Club, Keystone Progress (the state’s largest progressive organization), and Rep. Brian Sims, a popular new lawmaker who represents part of Philadelphia.
Meanwhile, Davidson’s campaign hit a snarl when video of Davidson allegedly intimidating voters surfaced online.
Davidson and Smith are also competing against Dafan Zhang, a third-year University of Pennsylvania Law School student.
The primary will take place on May 20.