Dr. Denise Johnson, the Acting Secretary and Physician General of the Pennsylvania Department of Health, speaking before the House and Senate Policy committees Tuesday, July 19, 2022. (Courtesy: Pennsylvania House of Representatives). Denise Johnson
Dr. Denise Johnson, the Acting Secretary and Physician General of the Pennsylvania Department of Health, speaking before the House and Senate Policy committees Tuesday, July 19, 2022. (Courtesy: Pennsylvania House of Representatives).

In a hearing before Democratic lawmakers, Pennsylvania’s Secretary of Health testified to the “facts and fictions” of a post-Roe Pennsylvania and what could happen if abortion access is restricted in the state. 

“Restricting access to abortion and the full suite of reproductive healthcare will harm individuals. There is no question about that.”

That’s what Dr. Denise Johnson, the Acting Secretary and Physician General of the Pennsylvania Department of Health, told Democratic state lawmakers from the House and Senate Policy committees during a hearing Tuesday about what the future of women’s healthcare looks like in the state post-Roe v. Wade.

Abortion and the full gamet of reproductive healthcare services are still safe and legal in Pennsylvania, Johnson stressed while urging lawmakers to keep it that way. She She said medical decisions regarding abortion should be between an individual and their doctor.

“There should be only your physician or healthcare provider that can counsel you on what medically is right for you,” Johnson said. “Others, not knowing your medical history or medical background, really aren’t able to intelligently make that decision for you.”

The hearing, co-hosted by the Pennsylvania Women’s Health Caucus, covered the facts and fiction of what the Supreme Court’s ruling means for people seeking abortion care in the commonwealth. It was the first in a series of three hearings regarding the topic of a post-Roe Pennsylvania. 

While the high court’s decision triggered abortion bans in many states, that wasn’t the case in Pennsylvania. Yet. The Republican-controlled legislature in Harrisburg has repeatedly pushed legislation that would limit access to abortion care. Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf has shot down every attempt. GOP lawmakers are now attempting to pass a constitutional amendment to circumvent Wolf’s veto.

Johnson said that if any of those proposals become law, lives will be lost.

“Bodily autonomy and privacy should be a human right,” Johnson said. “As I’ve stated, pregnancy has a risk up to death, no one should be able to impose a risk on someone without their consent.”

Johnson said individuals in states with more restrictive laws had a significantly higher maternal mortality rate. Being denied the proper medical care while pregnant could result in future fertility issues and injuries that have life-long effects. 

But the harms are not only physical, Johnson said. There can be emotional harm too, not only to the Individual who was denied an abortion but also to the child they were forced to have and the children they may already have.

“Knowing all of the risks that are involved with pregnancy, forcing an individual to undergo a pregnancy against their will is not ethical practice,” Johnson said.