Pennsylvania Allows Planned Parenthood to Perform Abortions Despite Elective Surgery Ban

Planned Parenthood Keystone has shut down all services except abortion

Pennsylvania governor Tom Wolf / Getty Images
March 31, 2020

Planned Parenthood clinics in Pennsylvania have eliminated all services except for abortion in the wake of a statewide ban on elective surgeries meant to preserve scarce medical resources amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Democratic governor Tom Wolf issued a directive ordering the shut down of all businesses "that are not life sustaining" on March 20, and a guidance from the state government prohibits elective procedures performed by health care services and hospitals. Despite these directives, Planned Parenthood Keystone, which serves central and eastern Pennsylvania, announced it would remain open "for abortion services only" while shutting down its other operations.

Hospitals are facing shortages of medical supplies necessary to deal with the pandemic as the number of coronavirus patients drastically increases across the state and country. The abortion clinics also requested donations of personal protective equipment, including "hand sanitizer, home-sewn masks, shoe covers, and surgical hats," so they could continue to perform abortions.

The order, issued on March 20, came after the state's health secretary urged doctors and patients to consider postponing noncritical surgeries. The state's largest abortion provider has ignored the directive and continued to proceed with abortions, even as it stopped providing routine exams and other services. Planned Parenthood did not respond to a request for comment.

"The paradox is just striking, here we're making an exception for life-sustaining procedures and yet an exception to that is this one medical procedure that's life-ending," Tom Brejcha, president and chief legal counsel for the Thomas More Society, told the Washington Free Beacon.

Pennsylvania had 31,260 abortions in 2017, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a pro-abortion think tank. More than 19,000 of those procedures likely required in-clinic services, as medication abortions accounted for 39 percent of all abortions in the United States in 2017, the most recent numbers made available by the institute.

Wolf has been an outspoken ally of abortion supporters while in office. In October 2019, he stated his intention to veto any pro-life legislation that came across his desk after Republicans in the state legislature introduced a "heartbeat bill" banning abortions after six weeks. Planned Parenthood has contributed $27,500 to Wolf's campaign coffers since 2014, according to state campaign finance records.

Wolf's office did not respond to a request for comment.

Pennsylvania is not the only state dealing with issues surrounding abortion providers in the midst of the pandemic. Texas included abortion clinics in a statewide order postponing surgeries and nonessential medical procedures. A federal judge blocked the order on Monday, saying it prevented women "from exercising what the Supreme Court has declared is their fundamental constitutional right to terminate a pregnancy before a fetus is viable."

Pro-life groups ripped Wolf for failing to take action against abortion clinics when hospitals and other facilities are struggling to deal with the pandemic.

"It is unconscionable that Governor Wolf has allowed elective abortions to proceed during this crisis when all resources are needed for essential medical procedures," said Susan B. Anthony List president Marjorie Dannenfelser in a statement.

An open letter from the Pennsylvania Family Institute called on Wolf to specifically address continued abortion procedures.

"Abortion is an elective procedure that should not be permitted at the peak of the coronavirus crisis," the letter states. "With abortions there is always the risk that some women will have complications from the procedure that will need emergency hospital care, which will only further drain our overstretched health care system."

Jeanne Mancini, president of the March for Life, said lawmakers should apply the ban on elective procedures across the board, rather than protecting the interests of abortion clinics.

"Killing unborn children isn't health care and certainly doesn't provide necessary medical help or assistance for coronavirus," Mancini said. "At a time when medical staff and resources are spread thin, it is very disappointing to see politicians use this vulnerable moment in our country's history to play politics and advocate for abortion."

Several counties in Pennsylvania are under stay-at-home orders as the number of coronavirus cases in the state passed 4,000.