On the Pennsylvania campaign trail, the doctor will see you now

“This is the first time I’ve really seen the medical community getting this active,” said Lisa Goldstein, a child psychiatrist who has been performing mini-ops from her garage in the Philadelphia suburbs for the past few years. “Doctors are usually very cautious in their public lives, but that feeling doesn’t exist at the moment. We are out there saying what we believe.”

It’s a big shift for Pennsylvania’s medical community — the state’s fourth-largest employment sector, employing more than 400,000 people — as physicians and medical organizations are typically reluctant to get involved in politics, careful to maintain good relationships with both the Democratic governor and the Republicans maintain legislature.

“It’s unusual,” confirmed David Talenti, president of the Pennsylvania Medical Society and a gastroenterologist practicing in Wayne County. “But the reason we got involved is because we see this as a significant threat to our medical practice.”

Democrats running for state and federal offices in Pennsylvania have benefited from the doctors’ message. confident that it can both activate its progressive base and win over the independents and Republicans — especially suburban women — whose votes are critical to national victory. The focus on how abortion restrictions are affecting the medical community comes as Democrats win in the governor and senator races — two competitions in which polls show they lead — and in the state legislature, where Democrats have about a dozen Republicans targeted to take control, closing arguments from the Statehouse for the first time in nearly 30 years.

Amid this barrage, Republicans say doctors’ fears about the impact on the state’s medical sector are overblown, and they’re confident voters are more concerned with other issues.

“I have a lot of city halls, and it’s not something that people talk about regularly,” said Republican House Representative Torren Ecker, who represents a county where former President Donald Trump received two-thirds of the vote in 2020. “For the general public, when you knock on doors, it’s wallet problems, it’s inflation, it’s education. Things like that interest people right now.”

Ecker, who told POLITICO he was pro-life, added that while doctors’ voices are important to the abortion debate, he doesn’t see them changing the outcome.

“I think medical professionals should definitely sit at the table. I will not ignore what they say,” he said. “But other groups are also important to put the big picture together.”

Abortion is legal in the state up to the 24th week of pregnancy. However, Republicans are expected to pass legislation in the upcoming session to present voters with a measure in 2023 that would change the state’s constitution so that there are no protections for abortion rights – paving the way for paved the way for new laws that would criminalize the process.

Doug Mastriano, the Republican nominee for governor, has advocated a total ban on abortion from conception with no exceptions for rape, incest or maternal life. Senate GOP nominee Mehmet Oz has distanced himself from this stance, saying he does not support a national abortion ban and is calling for exceptions in these cases. However, he told supporters in a tele town hall earlier this year that he contemplates abortion murder at any stage of pregnancy.

The Mastriano campaign did not respond to requests for comment. When asked about the doctors’ statements, Oz communications director Brittany Yanick dismissed them as biased and few in number, adding, “What a joke.”

Pennsylvania doctors say GOP is winning and the criminalization of abortion that could follow would mean medical students at the state’s top schools receive incomplete and substandard education in areas such as miscarriage management, emergency obstetrics and ectopic termination, threatening the state’s reputation would be considered a top destination for medical care.

Echoing the arguments of doctors, nurses and other health professionals in Indiana, Michigan, Nebraska, West Virginia and other states weighing new restrictions on the procedure, Pennsylvania doctors also say fear of prosecution and an inability to Using their best medical judgment will act as a deterrent to bar providers of all types from practicing in Pennsylvania, which could make access to abortion more difficult and affect the quality of health care in a state with one of the lowest maternal mortality rates in the country.

Democrats rely on doctors as trusted voices to sell their message. At a news conference Tuesday at the Ala Stanford Women’s Health Center in north Philadelphia, Attorney General and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Josh Shapiro passed the microphone to Valerie Arkoosh — an anesthetist, midwife and Democrat-elect from Montgomery County who has treated pregnant patients at teaching hospitals in the area for more than 20 years.

On Thursday, a group of white-coated doctors in the campaign office of Lt. Governor and Democratic Senate Governor John Fetterman opposite Philadelphia City Hall, Oz for his stance on abortion and the products he promoted on his long-running television show, saying his win would threaten medical coverage in the Keystone State.

“If I were a young medical student deciding where to start a family, there is no way I would choose to live in an abortion-banned state if I had a choice,” said one of the doctors, Belinda Birnbaum, opposite POLITICO. “This would make our existing labor shortages in primary care, rheumatology and other areas much worse.”

Birnbaum, a rheumatologist who has spent the past few weekends in Philadelphia’s battlefield suburbs, is one of more than 300 doctors who formed doctors for Fetterman and Shapiro earlier this year. Unlike Birnbaum, who became politically active during the Trump administration, it is the first foray into politics for the overwhelming majority of the group’s members, according to its leaders.

As they are stationed across the state in the last few weeks leading up to the election, knocking on doors, hosting town halls and testifying at county and community meetings, they are drawing on their experiences to try to influence voters who may consider abortion to be Watch Culture War or Religion War.

“I think a lot of people who say they’re pro-life or pro-life don’t realize that the kind of sweeping legislation Republicans are pursuing could potentially affect their own family member who has a bleed or an early miscarriage.” or have tubal disease pregnancy,” said Jessica Klemens, an OBGYN who practices in Montgomery County and was not involved in political advocacy prior to this year. “I had a patient in her second trimester who ruptured her waters and presented with a fever and things can get complicated very quickly. In banned states, doctors have to wait and see how sick a person needs to be before they can get an abortion.”

Doctors and medical students are also lobbying their employers — the state’s largest schools and health systems — to use their political clout to advocate for abortion rights, but they said it was “a tougher hill to climb.” and most declined to take a stand.

“There are a variety of reasons, including institutional inertia and fear of political retribution,” said Benjamin Abella, an emergency room physician at Penn Medicine in Philadelphia and director of Doctors for Shapiro and Fetterman. “It’s understandable that they’re extra cautious, but we’re saddened by this because we feel this issue is crossing a clear line. When you open that door, what else will you try to enact? These groups shouldn’t make sure it stops at abortion.”

The University of Pittsburgh Medical Center—the state’s largest nongovernmental employer—was a top target. More than 1,800 students, doctors, professors and other staff members signed an open letter in July urging the medical giant to take a stronger stance against GOP proposals to restrict abortion, citing hospital groups in Ohio and other states, who have done so, arguing that the institution is “at risk of complicity” if it does not speak up.

Greer Donley, a law professor at the University of Pittsburgh and a signatory of the letter, said the lack of response was “incredibly disappointing,” although she acknowledges that recent threats by GOP lawmakers against the institution’s funding over the use of fetal tissue in medical research were likely a factor.

UPMC, which has more than 90,000 employees and generates billions in sales every year, did not respond to a request for comment.

Other medical organizations in the state have also spoken out.

The Philadelphia College of Physicians, a group dating back to 1787, declined to speak to POLITICO but issued a statement when the Supreme Court tipped over Roe v. calf If lawmakers are asked to halt efforts to limit abortion, warning bans would lead to “dangerous alternatives and devastating outcomes.”

Doctors and the Democrats they support believe their message resonates.

A USA TODAY/Suffolk University poll of likely voters released last week found Fetterman to have a 6-point lead over Oz — though the race has narrowed a few points since June. Shapiro has a larger lead in his race for governor, leading Mastriano by 11 points. That poll also found that abortion rights came second to voters after economics.

Another Monmouth University poll released last week showed voters trust Fetterman more than Oz on abortion rights — 48 to 29 percent — and Fetterman also leads on jobs and the economy at 45 to 36 percent.

Fetterman and Shapiro are quick to argue that the issues are inextricably linked, saying doctors have the credibility and seriousness to get the point across.

“Physicians have not been as active in political efforts in the past,” Abella said. “But this choice is different because this choice puts our patients at risk. And many of us are coming off the sidelines now.”

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