The race for state representative in the 164th House district is hotly contested this year, with three candidates in the Democratic primary: State Representative Margo Davidson, former Lansdowne councilman Billy Smith, and East Lansdowne resident Dafan Zhang, who currently attends U. Penn as a third year JD student. Incumbent State Representative Margo Davidson has been labeled by some as a “conservative Democrat” or an “independent thinker” by House Democratic caucus spokesman Bill Patton, which is blood in the water in this safe Democratic seat.
Representative Davidson’s public relevance on the issue of reproductive choice culminated with her disclosure to the press and the state legislature that her cousin, Semika Shaw, was in fact one of the victims who died in 2000 at the hands of illegal abortionist Kermit Gosnell.
A decade after her cousin’s death, Davidson ran for the first time and won the 164th district seat, seeking the endorsement of Planned Parenthood during her campaign. Davidson made some history winning as the first Democrat, the first woman, and the first African American in the seat’s history, which was impressive under the old district lines, but the new district is quite favorable to progressives.
The Kermit Gosnell grand jury report, released in 2011, indicated that not only was Gosnell an untrained, uncertified medical professional, but his clinic in West Philadelphia also had no semblance to the stringent standards set forth by clinics run by organizations and practices like Planned Parenthood.
“the walls appeared to be urine-splattered. The procedure tables were old and one had a ripped plastic cover. Suction tubing, which was used for abortion procedures – and doubled as the only available suction source for resuscitation – was corroded.”
Republican politicians cynically capitalized on the horror, shared by proponents and opponents of legal abortions alike, to argue that it should be harder to get a legal abortion, but it’s important to understand why illegal abortions occur.
We know from the public statements of one victim who lived to speak, Davida Johnson, that the only reason she went to Gosnell rather than a legal clinic was because of the harassment she was forced to endure outside of the Locust Health Center in Center City, Philadelphia.
“The picketers out there, they scared me half to death,” the 21 year old victim told the Associated Press, motivating her to seek Gosnell’s help. His unsafe abortion procedure sterilized her and gave her a serious infection.
Advocating for stricter buffer zone laws that protect patients as they enter health clinics would have been a great first step toward preventing illegal abortions, but instead, Davidson vocally supported and voted for a bill that is supported by numerous anti-choice groups, whose only agenda is to eliminate the right to safe, legal abortion altogether.
Another effective method to prevent illegal abortions is to help prevent unintended pregnancies through better sex education, and by increasing the availability of birth control and the number of women’s health clinics serving people of any socioeconomic status. These are some of the key reasons why U.S. abortion rates has been dropping.
But Margo Davidson did not support expanding the number of women’s health clinics, and she did not support expanding sex education, and she did not support stricter Buffer Zone rules. Instead she advocated for Act 122, which the anti-choice crowd designed to smother clinics with excessively onerous regulations.
Planned Parenthood, who ended up endorsing Davidson, warned her that Act 122 would lead to a wave of health clinic closures, but she dismissed those concerns out of hand:
Opponents of the bill included the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania and other hospitals, as well as the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Abortion-rights advocates predicted that many if not all 22 freestanding abortion clinics in the state would close because they could not afford to comply with the bill’s hospital-level construction and staffing standards, and called the bill a Trojan horse for abortion foes.
Davidson does not share those concerns.
“I don’t often buy into conspiracy theories. There is no evidence to support that that would happen in Pennsylvania,” she said after the vote. “There is a long list of organizations [that oppose the bill] that have resources to raise funds to make sure clinics stay open.”
But Davidson should have believed those “conspiracy theories.” After she voted for Act 122, five abortion clinics closed in Pennsylvania, creating more business for predators like Gosnell who victimize women seeking an abortion, while limiting regional access to contraceptives.
We also know from Davidson’s interview with WHYY in the lead-up to the vote that her cousin sought an abortion from Kermit Gosnell after her pregnancy passed the legal gestational limit mandated by Pennsylvania state law.
Act 122 did absolutely nothing to address any of the situations that created paying customers for Gosnell – it only served to drive more business to these perpetrators. Davidson’s support of the bill was misguided at best; at worst, it was a calculated attempt to limit a woman’s right to choose.
Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers, or what reproductive choice advocates call “TRAP” laws, are not new, and Act 122 is a perfect example of legislation manufactured by those working to claw back the legal protections afforded to women through Roe v Wade.
The bill classified abortion clinics within the same category as hospitals and ambulatory services without changing the regulations that prevent state and federal funding for abortions. It also mandates that all abortion clinics make extremely expensive renovations to their clinics to include wider hallways and elevators, even though they never proved this was a serious problem for any legally regulated health clinic.
Representative Davidson may really believe in the principles outlined in the bill, but they do nothing to serve the memory of her cousin. There is a reason not a single medical professional supported these provisions when Act 122 was being debated in Harrisburg. It is an anti-choice political document, the NRLC equivalent of an ALEC bill, and you can tell because it refers to the fetus as “the unborn child” throughout.
Why Davidson would lend her support to such a bill after seeking Planned Parenthood’s endorsement is baffling.