Pro-choice physicians blast Pennsylvania Republican candidates Dr. Oz and Doug Mastriano and warn that abortion rights are on the ballot at both the state and federal level

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Doctor speaking at podium, with physicians in lab coats behind her
Dr. Jessica Klemens speaking at a press conference outside City Hall in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on September 15, 2022.Charles Davis/Insider
  • A group of OB/GYNs spoke out Thursday against efforts to ban abortion in Pennsylvania and nationwide

  • "We will not stand for being told we must let our patients die," Dr. Jessica Klemens said.

  • The event was organized by the Senate campaign of Pennsylvania's Democratic Lt. Gov. John Fetterman.

PHILADELPHIA — Dr. Jessica Klemens was raised by a mother whose who viewed abortion as incompatible with her Christian fiath. But her own beliefs evolved when she became an OB/GYN, she said Thursday at a press conference outside City Hall, telling the story of a patient, 16 weeks pregnant, who would at the very least lose her uterus — and with it, the ability to have a child — if she did not terminate her pregnancy.

Speaking at an event organized by the US Senate campaign of Pennsylvania's Democratic Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, Klemens argued that the right to abortion is about the right to save lives and that efforts to prohibit the medical procedure actually threaten not just those who are pregnant but their future, unborn children.

Such bans, Klemens said, do "the opposite of what conservative, so-called 'pro-life' folks claim they want." Earlier this year the US Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, which guaranteed the right to an abortion. Following that decision in Dobbs v. Jackson, so-called trigger laws have gone into effect in several states restricting or banning abortion, while others have passed laws limiting abortion services.

And at the federal level, legislation introduced by South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham would make abortions after 15 weeks illegal, with no exception for fetal abnormalities detected later in a pregnancy.

The vast majority of abortions occur in the first trimester. What proposed abortion bans in Pennsylvania and elsewhere could do, Klemens said, is "make it illegal for physicians to save the lives of the mothers and girls who experience an emergency and are at risk of dying from a hemorrhage or an infection or losing their uterus or Fallopian tube."

Flanked by more than a dozen other physicians, she added: "We will not stand for being told we must let our patients die."

Thursday's event took aim at two Pennsylvania Republicans: State Sen. Doug Mastriano, who is running for governor against state Attorney General Josh Shapiro, and Dr. Mehmet Oz, who is campaigning for Senate.

Although ending the national right to an abortion has long been a conservative goal, the Supreme Court's decision to overturn Roe v. Wade this summer has been an electoral boon to Democrats, with Republicans in competitive races generally downplaying their own positions while not trying to alienate their anti-abortion base.

The Oz campaign, for example, has said the Republican candidate — who has described abortion as "murder" — generally supports leaving the issue up to the states. But his campaign has also not responded to Insider's requests for comment on how he would vote on Graham's bill, which could come to the Senate floor if the GOP gains a majority in the upper chamber this November.

"Dr. Oz is pro-life with three exceptions: life of the mother, rape, and incest," spokesperson Brittany Yanick told The Philadelphia Inquirer. "And as a senator, he'd want to make sure that the federal government is not involved in interfering with the state's decisions on the topic."

Mastriano, for his part, earlier this year pledged to ban abortion with no exceptions, including if the life of a mother were threatened. But, following the high court's ruling, he has since dismissed the issue as a "distraction" from the economy.

Pro-choice physicians at Thursday's event said they fear for the future.

doctors holding signs that say "Physicians for Fetterman + Shapiro"
More than a dozen pro-choice physicians attended a press conference organized by the Senate campaign of Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. John Fetterman.Charles Davis/Insider

"Pennsylvania will be next," Dr. Karen Fiesullin, an OB/GYN, told reporters, warning that even bans with exceptions for the life of a patient will result in unnecessary delays to care. "I fear for my patients when I speak to my colleagues across the country who have their hands tied while they're waiting for approval from their hospital administrators on whether a patient's condition is life-threatening enough to be able to treat. This is the reality of what will come."

Democrats such as Fetterman and Shapiro see that message as a winning issue.

At a rally last weekend in the Philadelphia suburbs, Fetterman, joined by speakers from Planned Parenthood, stressed his own support for the right to choose, telling some 3,000 supporters that he would be the "51st vote" to end the Senate filibuster and pass a law protecting reproductive rights at the federal level.

With Republicans in control of Pennsylvania's legislature — and seeking to amend the constitution to enable a ban on abortion — such federal protections could safeguard abortion access in the commonwealth, where already people must undergo government-mandated counseling before terminating a pregnancy.

Dr. Kavita Vinekar, an OB/GYN in Philadelphia, is herself 17-weeks pregnant. At this stage, she noted, "I do not know whether my pregnancy will result in a live-born baby or whether there are anomalies that are incompatible with life." But under a 15-week ban, the discovery of life-threatening irregularities could effectively be a death sentence, she argued. That would mean the daughter she already has at home losing their mother.

"I have a child at home who needs me and I would give anything to be there for her," she said. "And if that meant ending this pregnancy so that I could survive to care for her, I would do that without hesitation. Any government — state or federal — that prevents me from making that vital decision is committing a grotesque act of violence."

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