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Pennsylvania AG to abortion providers: ‘I have your backs’

 Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro held a press conference about his office's efforts to uphold abortion rights on July 14, 2022.
Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro held a press conference about his office's efforts to uphold abortion rights on July 14, 2022.

As anti-abortion lawmakers in nearby states are expected to push for laws restricting travel across state lines to terminate a pregnancy, some Pennsylvania officials here don’t plan to cooperate if those laws are passed.

At a press conference in Pittsburgh on Thursday, Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro said his office is preparing in case other states target people seeking abortion in Pennsylvania

Shapiro’s office will enforce the federal Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances act, which prohibits people from intimidating or interfering with people seeking reproductive health care.

Shapiro said a recently signed executive order from Governor Tom Wolf will also help protect abortion access in the state. The order allows out-of-state residents to enter Pennsylvania to get reproductive health services and directs commonwealth officials to decline requests to prosecute people for abortions that are legal in Pennsylvania.

“Hopefully this will be a warning shot to those other states to stay out of Pennsylvania, to stay away from our providers because we have their backs,” Shapiro said.

Pittsburgh-area clinics that perform abortions have seen demand for services skyrocket since the Supreme Court overturned the constitutional right to an abortion in June.

Doctors at the Allegheny Reproductive Health Center estimate calls from people inquiring about abortion services have increased 1,000%. About two-thirds of those calls are now from out of state, such as Ohio and West Virginia.

“We know that when people don’t have access to bodily autonomy, to comprehensive reproductive health care, to making choices about how they build families if they choose to have families, and how those families appear, we know that those families suffer,” said Dr. Sheila Ramgopal, the CEO of Allegheny Reproductive Health Center.

Ramgopal said the increased demand has made it more difficult for the clinic to return phone calls. Prior to the Supreme Court decision, most calls inquiring about abortion were returned within a day. Now, it takes staffers between five and seven days to return those calls. After the calls are returned, patients can be scheduled at the clinic in one to two weeks.

“As an OB-GYN, I do hysterectomies, tubal [litigations], deliver babies, C-sections. Abortion is the safest thing that I do in my practice,” Ramgopal said. “The fact that our patients can’t access that in a timely and safe manner and they have to feel fear is completely unacceptable.”

Shapiro said his office is prepared to take other states to court over challenges to Pennsylvania laws protecting abortion access.

“Pennsylvania doctors and healthcare providers, I want you to hear me quite clearly: You can continue to provide access to abortions here in our commonwealth. And I have your backs,” he said.

Shapiro is the Democratic nominee for governor. He will face Republican Doug Mastriano in November.

Copyright 2022 90.5 WESA

Julia Zenkevich