Mehmet Oz, the Republican nominee for a U.S. Senate seat in Pennsylvania, said Tuesday that discussions about abortion access should be left to women, doctors and “local political leaders.”
Oz made the comments during his first and only debate against Democratic rival John Fetterman, who is the state’s lieutenant governor.
“There should not be involvement from the federal government in how states decide their abortion decisions,” Oz said Tuesday. “As a physician, I’ve been in the room when there’s some difficult conversations happening. I don’t want the federal government involved with that at all.”
He added: “I want women, doctors, local political leaders, letting the democracy that’s always allowed our nation to thrive, putting the best ideas forward so states can decide for themselves.”
The comment sparked consternation from health care groups, which have long argued such decisions should be kept between patients and their doctors.
— Planned Parenthood Action (@PPact) October 26, 2022
— Mini Timmaraju (@mintimm) October 26, 2022
Oz has walked a fine line with his anti-abortion stance throughout the campaign in hopes of appealing to moderate Pennsylvanians. Leaked audio from earlier this year, however, sparked controversy after Oz was recorded saying abortion at any stage of pregnancy was “still murder.”
The physician has since said there should be no criminal penalties for doctors or women surrounding abortion, and his campaign added that he supports exceptions for victims of rape or incest, or if the health of the mother is in danger.
A moderator asked Oz to elaborate, questioning how he would vote on the nationwide abortion ban proposed by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and other Republicans. That bill would ban the procedure after 15 weeks of pregnancy, the most dramatic effort thus far after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the landmark Roe v. Wade decision in June.
Oz alluded that he’d vote no, although he went on to say a local law that banned abortion in a similar fashion would be OK. Abortion in Pennsylvania is currently legal up to 24 weeks.
“Any bill that violates what I said, which is the federal government interfering with the state rule on abortion, I would vote against,” Oz said. “What I feel strongly about is that women in Pennsylvania understand what I’m saying.”
Fetterman, who has regularly lambasted Oz for his stance on abortion rights, said he believed the procedure was a “universal right for all women in America.”
“I believe abortion is health care, and I believe that is a choice that belongs with each woman and her doctor,” he said at Tuesday’s debate.
This article originally appeared on HuffPost and has been updated.