In the lead-up to the May 20 primary for the 13th Congressional district in Pennsylvania, Democratic state Rep. Brendan F. Boyle (District 170) has been making pro-choice campaign trail promises so contrary to his voting record that it’s inspired two national pro-choice organizations to team up to issue what amounts to an anti-endorsement.
With polls showing wealthy York County businessman Tom Wolf significantly ahead in the Democratic gubernatorial primary race, the neck-to-neck four-way primary for the 13th district has become the race to watch in Pennsylvania.
The seat went up for grabs when Democratic U.S. Rep. Allyson Schwartz decided to enter the governor’s race. Initially, polls showed Marjorie Margolies, the former seat-holder of the 13th district with political and familial ties to the Clintons, as the front-runner. But state Sen. Daylin Leach (D-Montgomery County), physician Valerie Arkoosh, and Rep. Boyle have made it anyone’s game.
The race has been riddled with the kind of theatrical horse-race drama that delights local political observers: a Federal Election Commission complaint was filed against Margolies, Boyle refused to show up to one of the debates an hour before go-time, and there’s been general mud-slinging over who is and isn’t a bona fide millionaire. But amid the drama, it was Boyle’s decision to stump on a pro-choice platform that has drawn national attention.
In a recent television ad, Boyle claimed that he has spent his time in Harrisburg “tak[ing] on [Gov. Tom] Corbett to protect a woman’s right to choose.”
Indeed, the right to abortion has been under attack by Gov. Corbett’s administration. Since Corbett’s election in 2010, Pennsylvania lawmakers have passed restrictions requiring that freestanding abortion clinics adhere to guidelines set for ambulatory surgical facilities and passed legislation restricting insurance companies from selling policies that cover abortion through the state health insurance exchange; an amendment to make an exception for abortions needed to protect the health of the pregnant woman was explicitly shot down.
Gov. Corbett made national headlines when he defended a proposed forced ultrasound bill by advising women to “just close [their] eyes” if they didn’t want to see the ultrasound screen during a state-mandated transvaginal ultrasound exam. (The bill was shelved after much criticism.)
In 2011, Pennsylvania lawmakers introduced
legislation to require abortion providers to have admitting privileges at a local hospital, similar to a policy that has led to massive shutdowns of abortion clinics in Texas. A new version of the bill is expected to move after the primary.
While the Pennsylvania legislature has some members who have vocally taken on Gov. Corbett’s anti-choice agenda, Rep. Boyle is not one of them.
In fact, Boyle voted for the ambulatory surgical facility guidelines that led to the closure of at least four abortion clinics in good standing, and co-sponsored the 2011 admitting privileges legislation.
This contradiction caught the attention of the reproductive rights group NARAL Pro-Choice America and Emily’s List, which supports pro-choice women Democrats. (Emily’s List endorsed Allyson Schwartz for governor in Pennsylvania).
“We saw this as a fantastic opportunity to team up [with Emily’s List] to not only highlight someone’s bad anti-choice record, but also to remind voters that there are good pro-choice candidates in this race and Boyle is not one of them,” Samantha Gordon, NARAL’s director of public affairs, told RH Reality Check.
In April, weeks before his campaign ad about protecting “a woman’s right to choose,” Boyle filled out a questionnaire that earned him an eleventh hour 100 percent rating from Planned Parenthood.
“We always welcome anyone who wants to be a convert, but [Boyle has a] record to show that this is not about an evolution on reproductive rights. It’s something we see as being a bit more obvious,” said Gordon. “We think he’s trying to mislead voters.”
Marcy Stech, a spokesperson for Emily’s List, told RH Reality Check that “there’s no room except for someone who is pro-choice” in the 13th district.
The organizations collaborated to create pamphlets that clarify Boyle’s voting record on reproductive rights. The first of three planned waves of direct mail, targeted to female voters in the district, went out last Friday.
The front of the mailer announces “Brendan Boyle’s Abysmal Anti-Choice Record,” and the first page highlights his anti-choice voting record:
- Pledged to block Planned Parenthood funding
- Supported drastic restrictions on abortion providers
- Named an “All Star” by Democrats for Life America
The cost of the groups’ campaign neared six figures, according to Gordon.
The primary in the 13th district is significant because, as Boyle explained in a recent interview, a Republican redistricting plan carved the districts up in such a way that it is largely assumed that whoever wins the Democratic primary will win the seat. The district includes neighborhoods in northeast Philadelphia and Montgomery County.
Boyle has said that he doesn’t think the same way about abortion as he did earlier in his career, though his support of ambulatory surgical facility guidelines and admitting privileges legislation was only three years ago.
While it’s true that he did not co-sponsor the 2014 version of the admitting privileges legislation
, he has not publicly spoken out against the bill, or explained his new stance. In a recent wide-ranging interview, he did not mention abortion when asked about his support for women’s rights. Instead, he pivoted: “Investing in preventative medicine and health care is so important,” he said, adding that he wants to work against “laws that unfairly target women or make it more difficult to get preventative care.”
But by voting for ambulatory surgical facility guidelines, Boyle voted for a law that unfairly targets working and poor women by making it more difficult for them to access both reproductive and preventive care. The admitting privileges bill, if passed, will likely result in the closure of more abortion clinics in the state. No evidence exists that either type of regulation improves patient safety.