EDITORIAL: Protect abortion providers in Pa.

York Dispatch Editorial Board

When a noted anti-abortion activist filed a request last year with the Pennsylvania Department of Health for information on the state’s abortion clinics, it was granted — with medical personnel’s names and other personal information redacted.

Now the activist, Jean Crocco of the Chicago-based Pro-Life Action League, is seeking that information in Commonwealth Court.

For the safety of those who provide medical care at those clinics — not only abortions but an array of other women’s health services — the state must stand its ground and protect those identities.

When it comes to reproductive health care, safety concerns cannot be overstated — but not the kind Crocco is using as justification for her request. According to statistics compiled by the National Abortion Federation, there were nearly 4,000 incidents of violence committed against abortion providers, support staff and facilities between 2010 and 2018. Attacks run the gamut from vandalism and arson to assault and murder.

Indeed, were any other industry to come under the type of attack women’s health care facilities have endured over the past few decades — including bombings, acid attacks, invasions and stalking — the campaign would rightfully be defined as terrorism.

Abortion providers are routinely accosted in person, harassed online and targeted for retaliation. Nearly a dozen of them have been killed over the years and more than two dozen others have survived attempts on their lives.

In light of that history, Crocco’s claims that she seeks the identifying information simply to help “improve the quality of medical care in abortion facilities” rings hollow.

Protesters for women's rights march to the Alabama Capitol to protest a law passed last week making abortion a felony in nearly all cases with no exceptions for cases of rape or incest, Sunday, May 19, 2019, in Montgomery, Ala. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)

This is the type of argument often trotted out by abortion opponents to justify onerous restrictions. Stringent medical requirements, burdensome waiting periods and invasive, unnecessary medical procedures, they say, are for the safety of the mother.


They are mean-spirited roadblocks designed to bring shame, inconvenience, expense and discomfort to the process and to the women — disincentivizing if not outright obstructing a woman’s ability to exercise her legal rights.

Pennsylvania’s Right-to-Know Law has a personal-safety exemption for the identities of abortion providers — and for very good reason.

“Disclosing providers’ identities will endanger them and the public they serve,” according to the legal response to Crocco’s lawsuit filed by the Women’s Law Project, which is representing the clinics.

As the current spate of attacks on abortion rights go, Pennsylvania’s Right-to-Know argument may seem relatively benign. After all, hard-right lawmakers in states like Alabama and Missouri, salivating over the possibility that the Supreme Court’s new 5-4 conservative majority will strike down Roe v. Wade, are falling all over themselves to pass ridiculously restrictive legislation:

  • So-called “heartbeat bills” in states like Georgia would ban abortion once a fetal heartbeat is detected — something that can take place as early as six to eight weeks after fertilization, before many women even know they’re pregnant.
  • Alabama’s new law would imprison doctors for 99 years for performing an abortion — about three times as long as would-be presidential assassin John Hinckley spent in prison for shooting President Ronald Reagan.
  • In Louisiana, as in many of the other states passing such laws, there is no exemption for victims of rape or incest.

Gov. Tom Wolf has rightfully vowed to veto any similar proposals in Pennsylvania.

Still, the Right-to-Know challenge presents its own dangers, particularly in an age when threats and intimidation against abortion providers are on the rise nationwide (up more than 40 percent year-over-year in 2018).

Physicians and staffs at women’s health care facilities have for far too long been subjected to threats, violence, injury and even death for delivering safe and legal services. Pennsylvania’s Office of Open Records is correct to perceive this threat and protect the state’s practitioners from similar mistreatment. The state’s Commonwealth Court must follow suit.